CA: Boxer bill would set aside 3,800 sq. miles for wilderness

By EDMOND JACOBY Staff writer
Mountain Democrat Online

Placerville, CA - 5/3/02 -A wilderness bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, would set aside California lands larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Advanced copies of the California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act of 2002 began circulating last week under the title "discussion draft."

The draft, more than 10,000 words in length, lists 75 specific sites where land would be acquired and designated wilderness areas. Two of those sites are in El Dorado County, where the bill would create a 23,040-acre Caples Creek Wilderness Area and a 19,780-acre Meiss Meadows Wilderness Area. Together those would be the equivalent of almost 19 percent of the surface area of Lake Tahoe.

Those two locations were previously the focus of meetings held to determine local sentiment and inform local government officials and politicians. At those meetings Boxer's deputy state director, Thomas Bohigian, assured everyone present that no bill had been drafted and that local concerns about access to forest lands would be respected when a bill was written.

Altogether, the bill would set aside as wilderness, closed to many common uses and to all intrusion by mechanized transportation devices, nearly 3,800 square miles of forest and desert lands. By comparison, El Dorado County is 1,805 square miles. The total is about 2.4 percent of the entire state of California.

Among the problems identified at those earlier meetings and which the bill does not appear to address is that of forest fire prevention and suppression. Wilderness areas normally may not be cleared of fire fuels, fallen trees and brush in particular but also including dense timber growth. The consequence is that, over time, the likelihood of a severe forest fire rises, and without trails or mechanized access firefighters are at a disadvantage extinguishing such fires, according to forestry sources.

At a meeting April 12 between community leaders, user groups and Bohigian at Strawberry Lodge on Highway 50, George Osborne, president of the Board of Directors of El Dorado Irrigation District and a former forest firefighter, made exactly that point when asking for the senator's intentions for the Caples Creek area. EID is concerned that fire in an area traversed by flumes feeding its water system, particularly the Project 184 water sources, including Caples Creek, could be catastrophic.

Although Boxer's staff has never circulated a map showing exactly where wilderness boundaries will fall, the draft of the proposed wilderness act includes a remarkably detailed list -- a list that refers to maps for exact locations of the parcels.

"Under the guise of protecting our heritage, the senator is accomplishing something quite different," said Richard Akin, a member of EID's board of directors.

"The national forests are supposed to benefit all of the citizens," he said.

"Timber harvests helped to finance a major part of our roads and our schools in El Dorado County in the past. Now, that's dwindled to almost nothing," he said.

"The national forests were something we could all use once, and the people who created and ran them made a big deal out of their multiple uses. Wilderness designation means all we can do is look at them," he said.

Of interest in this part of California would be the areas set aside in the El Dorado and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests totaling 42,800 acres, 73,630 acres in the Tahoe National Forest, which the bill refers to as the North Fork American Wilderness Area, the Black Oak Wilderness Area, the Duncan Canyon Wilderness Area, the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, the Castle Peak Wilderness Area and the Grouse Lakes Wilderness Area.

Additionally, 62,234 acres in the Bureau of Land Management's Ukiah District are to become the Cache Creek Wilderness Area.

The bill also would set aside 74,677 acres in the Shasta Trinity National Forest as salmon restoration areas.

Some 522 miles of California rivers would be designated Wild and Scenic Rivers by the same bill, including portions of the Mokelumne River, the North Fork of the Stanislaus River, and the South Fork of the Tuolumne River. A Sacramento River National Conservation Area also would be created by the bill, consisting of 30,000 acres along the lower Sacramento River, lower Battle Creek and lower Payne's Creek in Tehama County.

A provision in the bill also would create the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, an area of 29,000 acres identified only as being "public lands generally depicted on a map entitled 'Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest -- proposed' dated April 2001."

The bill creates several categories of recurring spending authorization totaling $17 million annually, plus "such sums as may be necessary to carry out" specified portions of the legislation.

Bohigian was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Boxer's Los Angeles-based press spokesman, Jeff Logan, said he was unaware that copies of the legislation had been circulated, and said he had not seen one himself. He was provided a copy, but subsequently did not return calls.


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