U. S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation today that would preserve as a National Forest Scenic Area 144,000 acres of the dramatic Big Sur coastline and inland areas.
The bill would permanently ban any new mining, timber harvesting, oil and gas development on U.S. Forest Service land and prohibit offshore oil and gas development closer than 20 miles to the Big Sur coast in Monterey County.
The bill would not affect existing mining or timber harvesting claims, including the controversial limestone mining operation on U.S. Forest Service land at Big Sur's Pico Blanco mountain, 20 miles south of Carmel.
The legislation is the latest attempt to add new protections to the Monterey County coastline, considered one of the nation's most spectacular coasts. A similar attempt by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) that was backed by environmentalists and the late wilderness photographer Ansel Adams died in Congress five years ago as a result of opposition from development interests.
Since then, however, Monterey County has drafted a comprehensive land use plan for Big Sur which has been widely applauded. Wilson's bill would incorporate that plan as the "cornerstone" of efforts to regulate development on privately owned land.
Because of the county plan, Wilson's bill would cover an area much smaller than Cranston's. Cranston had proposed a 700,000-acre scenic area supervised by the U.S. Forest Service and would have spent $100 million to buy out private land owners.
Wilson's proposal would appropriate no funds to buy private land, but would create a Big Sur land trust funded by private donations to purchase private property, much like similar trusts, which have been established to acquire Redwood forests or fund the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.
The Monterey plan is scheduled for a final vote in April by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. Only if there were significant changes in that plan would Wilson's bill authorize the U.S. secretary of agriculture, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, to exercise condemnation authority to acquire private lands.
Wilson plans to visit Big Sur on Saturday to discuss his legislation with local residents.