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Wilderness bill divisive -- Mother Lode reacts to proposal involving Stanislaus NF
THE STOCKTON RECORD
APRIL 22, 2002
Wilderness bill divisive
Mother Lode reacts to proposal that would boost Stanislaus Forest land
By Francis P. Garland Lode Bureau Chief SONORA -- Sen. Barbara Boxer is crafting a potentially divisive proposal to designate vast spans of public land as wilderness or "wild and scenic" areas, adding to the more than 5 million acres in California now receiving the protected status. Talk of the proposed legislation, which would likely add protected acreage in the Stanislaus National Forest, already is spreading like wildfire. At a Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, some two dozen people on both sides of the wilderness fence voiced their opinions. The county Farm Bureau adopted a resolution strongly opposing any such expansion. Tuolumne supervisors said they want to see more information from Boxer about her proposal. Supervisor Mark Thornton, though, said the bill must address cultural preservation and fuels-management issues before he could! ! support expanding wilderness protection or adding to the Wild and Scenic River rolls. "I'm a historian -- and I have to stand up on the side of cultural-resource protection," Thornton said. "There already are more than 200,000 acres in the county designated (as wilderness). What would be the reason for any additions to that?" Tom Bohigian, Boxer's deputy state director, said it's to protect precious areas of the state for future generations to enjoy. "So people can come to those areas and see what this state was," he said, "and frankly what makes it so attractive." Bohigian said no final decisions have been made on lands to be included in Boxer's legislation. Last year, though, a statewide environmental coalition identified more than 7 million acres of public land and nearly 4,000 miles of free-flowing rivers and creeks that qualified for protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act or the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Those laws provide special protection measures an! d! outlaw the use of motorized and mechanized vehicles, logging, mining and dam building, depending on the specific designation. Areas apparently under consideration for wilderness designation include four roadless tracts near the existing Carson-Iceberg and Emigrant wilderness areas that total about 50,000 acres. In addition, the Clavey River, a portion of the North Fork Stanislaus River and a stretch of the North Fork Mokelumne River are being considered for Wild and Scenic River protection. Bohigian said the total acreage to be proposed for protections would be "a fraction" of the 7 million acres environmentalists identified last year. But, he said, Boxer believes more land merits protection because people need places to recreate. "And we also need to protect things like the watershed, which is more critical than it was in earlier years." Some fear those protection measures will curtail uses they've come to enjoy -- and in some cases, bank on. Generations of ranchers, for! e! xample, have taken their cows and calves to high-country Forest Service grazing allotments for the summer, and some fear a wilderness designation would bring restrictions that would make that annual ritual nearly impossible to continue. For example, Sherri and Bob Brennan, who live in Sonora and take their cattle to Eagle Meadows every summer, said they now use motorized vehicles and heavy equipment to help put up and take down a grazing fence each year. They also use a chain saw to clear debris that piles up on the fence during the winter. "If we didn't have access (by motor vehicle) and had to hike all that fence line, that would change the complexity of what we're doing," said Sherri Brennan, who also noted that chain saws generally are not permitted to be used in the wilderness. Brennan said it's not just ranchers who would object to wilderness expansion. "There would be huge recreation impacts," she said. Two groups -- the Backcountry Horsemen of California and the ! Cali! fornia Equestrian Trails and Lands Coalition -- already have said they would not support wilderness expansion unless they were guaranteed there would be no cut in the number of days available for them to take horses or other animals into the backcountry. John Buckley of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, though, said wilderness designation would not bring an end to grazing or recreation. "The designation of wilderness simply keeps it as it is right now and prevents future threats to that area," he said. "It doesn't block any road or stop anything ongoing, and it definitely doesn't stop recreation." Although Boxer's staff has been meeting to diffuse potential opposition, Bohigian said the end result won't please everyone. "Those folks who want everything proposed (for wilderness designation) won't like our bill," he said. "Those who don't want another acre of wilderness or any noticeable amount won't like it either. * To reach Lode Bureau Chief Francis P. Garland, phone 736-9554 or e-mail email@example.com
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