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Thompson aims to preserve land
by Hannah Horton, 6/12/2005

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Thompson is continuing his quest to set aside the Lost Coast, while outdoor buffs keep voicing concerns about losing access to their public playgrounds.

Thompson’s Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act designates a total of 300,000 acres of federal land, located entirely within Thompson’s district, as wilderness areas.

“It’s a terrific opportunity to preserve this land for future generations,” said Derek Chernow, communications director at the California Wild Heritage Campaign.

The bill’s designated wilderness area includes the Lost Coast, the longest area of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. This mountainous area, famous for its redwoods and rugged coastline, is undisturbed by major roads.

The remote region has attracted the attention of outdoor recreation enthusiasts and, thus, the preservation efforts of conservation groups.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, passed in February. Thompson’s bill is currently awaiting discussion in the House of Representatives, but has received bipartisan support in Congress.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously supports the proposed bill, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced his support as well.

“There are literally hundreds of organizations and businesses in California and (the) North Coast in support of this,” including timber companies, ranches and wineries, as well as elected officials, Chernow said.

But some private landowners and recreation groups are worried, convinced that the wilderness designation will limit their access.

“We’re concerned that it is going to close existing mountain biking trails and also impact dispersed camping areas,” said Don Amador, western representative for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, an organization working with recreation enthusiasts.

Supporters of the bill insist that activities that are currently authorized in these areas will not be prohibited. If passed, Thompson’s bill will not close any existing roads, but will prevent the wilderness areas from new development.

Amador said another concern is that pockets of privately owned land are enclosed within public land in the King Range.

The bill specifies private-property owners in the wilderness areas will not be hindered in their “reasonable use and enjoyment” of their property.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition hopes to complete its official position on the bill within the next two weeks and start talks with Thompson, Amador said. The coalition’s proposal would include a re-evaluation of which areas should be designated as wilderness. In exchange for some land’s wilderness designation, the coalition would ask for re-opening other areas to the public.

Their plan will also include plans for facilities, such as restrooms, for recreational users of the public land, Amador said.

(Hannah Horton is in Washington D.C. with the Summer Institute of Journalism, a four-week journalism program. She is living on Capitol Hill with 15 other journalism students. The goal of SIJ is for student journalists to work as correspondents from Washington D.C., finding national stories with regional hooks.)
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