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An Unnecessarily Arid Approach to the Desert : Sen. Seymour vows to block a wise desert protection bill

August 09, 1992

Election-year politics can make people do strange things. California's Republican Sen. John Seymour, an appointee who is running for election to a full term, is a case in point.

On Wednesday, vowing to do "everything" he could to block a bill that would protect desert wilderness in the southeastern corner of California, Seymour moved to prevent the Senate Energy Committee from bringing the measure to a vote before the full Senate. His dogged opposition--seemingly an appeal to a special interest--makes passage of this important legislation before the end of the year increasingly remote.

Seymour opposes S 21, also known as the Desert Protection Act, despite indications that the fragile desert environment is being slowly destroyed by misuse and that the desert tortoise and other species that make their home there are endangered by recreational activities such as "off-roading."

Sen. Seymour has already spent the better part of a year in a misguided attempt to drastically reduce the 7.5 million acres of land that would be conserved under the act. The bill would also designate the East Mojave National Scenic Area, Death Valley National Monument and Joshua Tree National Monument as national parks; and placing them under the auspices of the National Park Service would expand their current acreage.

Seymour argues that the bill would seal off the land for environmentalists at the expense of the public. But the desert areas are already visited by nearly 8 million people each year, and that would not be expected to change. He also says that mining in the Mojave desert would be adversely affected. But the few mines that still exist in the East Mojave would be allowed to continue to operate, even in designated wilderness areas. Lastly, there are thousands of miles of dirt roads elsewhere that are more appropriate places for driving off-road recreational vehicles.

Seymour said he will endeavor to block the bill despite being--as he rightly observes--"outmanned and outgunned." This iconoclastic stand is heroism in pursuit of a less than noble cause. Taking a die-hard, tough-guy line against special interests is one thing; however, opposing a measure that an overwhelming number of Californians support is not a good idea. With sufficient reason, most California voters are genuinely concerned about the deterioration of the environment.

Seymour's action could easily be construed as pandering to a small minority that believes that their right to tear up the desert comes before the right of the rest of the public to preserve and use it wisely.

The whole episode is just too bad, and not only for environmentalists and the public that enjoys California's natural beauty. It's too bad that the moderate Seymour has painted himself into a corner with his hard-line stand when just recently he was able to help forge a workable compromise on important water legislation.

He apparently wishes to leave no room for compromise here, and that's a loss--at least for the rest of this year--for improving and expanding California open space. We urge the senator to change his mind.

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