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'Protection for the Desert'

April 15, 1988

Your editorial "Protection for the Desert" (Part I, April 4) does not fairly portray the issues and concerns relative to Sen. Alan Cranston's proposed California Desert Protection Act.

As one who has represented vast portions of this territory for 20 years in the state Assembly and in Congress, I am concerned by the lack of attention being paid to the many legitimate concerns relative to the desert and the apparent willingness to adopt a proposal that circumvents the public policy process that created the existing management plan for the desert. The Cranston proposal, while well-intentioned, forsakes the needs and concerns of the many legitimate interests of desert dwellers and users to appease the interests of a few powerful interest groups.

The most disturbing element of this present discussion is that no one has adequately addressed the question of why Sen. Cranston has abandoned the public process that produced a compromise management plan for the 25-million acre California Desert Conservation Area.

Why have he and other individuals and organizations, who supported the landmark Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 and were directly involved in the decision-making process that created the resulting California Desert Conservation Area Plan, given up on the implementation of this grand compromise?

Your editorial correctly stated that "the issue is not so much whether the desert ought to be protected, but how." As is often the case, the bottom line rests upon financial considerations. However, the conclusions drawn relative to the National Park Service's ability to better manage public lands than the Bureau of Land Management ought to be more closely examined before a judgment is rendered.

As you noted, the BLM has had 22 rangers to patrol more than 12 million acres. Carefully omitted in The Times' endorsement of the Cranston proposal is the fact that Congress last year responded to the need for greater desert protection by approving funding to effectively double the size of the ranger force.

Without a well-financed land use program, most of the public loses while the desert continues to be abused by the few thoughtless individuals responsible for most of the desert scars. A detailed program promoting education and strict enforcement of desert regulations can halt these abuses. Supporting the existing federal land management plan for the region, with sufficient funding, would provide adequately designated wilderness areas and strict conservation for a vast majority of California's desert lands.

REP. JERRY LEWIS

R-Redlands

Washington, D.C.

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