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California Desert Act

July 23, 1994

Re "House Vote Downgrades Desert Land Status," July 13:

The vote to designate the East Mojave Desert a preserve rather than a national park is a victory for wildlife. For decades now the California Department of Fish and Game has been doing an exemplary job of managing our state's wild sheep population. From near-extinction a century ago, bighorn sheep have increased in number to over 5,000. With continued management it could be only a matter of years before we see twice that number of sheep in our mountains.

The Marble Mountains in the East Mojave have been a prime source for bighorn sheep that have been transplanted to new habitats or reintroduced into their traditional ones. In those mountains the Department of Fish and Game, in cooperation with private conservation organizations, has been able to enhance the living conditions of wild sheep through numerous habitat improvement projects, such as artificial watering holes (which benefit all the wildlife in the area, not merely sheep), and to acquire information about sheep biology and behavior--vital to their survival--through capture and testing. Park status would have ended all such management activities in the Marble Mountains, leaving the sheep to a highly uncertain fate.

THOMAS McINTYRE, Downey

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In its editorial, "Political Aridity Over the Desert" (July 14), The Times was unmistakably clear in its appraisal of the treatment of the California Desert Protection Act by the House of Representatives.

By voting to downgrade the Mojave National Park to a preserve, the House has done a great disservice to the ecological and economic centerpiece of the desert legislation. Worse, it did so for narrow-minded, political self-interest. The vast majority of Californians support a desert bill with a full-fledged Mojave National Park. While a few die-hard opponents to the bill continue to try to talk the bill to death on the false claim that the residents of the desert oppose the bill, the truth is that in Rep. Al McCandless' desert district, only one city government has opposed the bill, more than seven, including Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Riverside, are enthusiastic supporters. The City of Redlands, the heart of Rep. Jerry Lewis' district, supports the bill.

When the House-Senate conference committee takes up the desert bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has been stalwart in her defense of the Mojave National Park, must stay the course and make it brutally clear to her conferees that the Mojave National Park must be restored to the bill.

The House still must pass the bill. When it returns to the bill next week, the bill's opponents, Reps. Lewis, McCandless and Duncan Hunter, must get out of the way of a bill supported by the majority of California.

JAY THOMAS WATSON, Regional Director, The Wilderness Society, San Francisco

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You deride Rep. Lewis for agreeing with the amendment to preserve hunting in the East Mojave, yet make no mention of the 50-odd amendments added to the Senate version that enabled it to pass.

You decry the lack of park status, yet either way the National Park Service would manage the area. You claim the argument for hunting is fatuous because "only 28 deer were taken in the area." You fail to mention the other hunting opportunities in the 2,500-square miles that comprise the East Mojave. There is abundant quail, chukker, rabbit, coyote and bobcat. The Nelson bighorn sheep hunt, limited to less than 30 tags, annually generates $250,000 that is used exclusively for habitat improvements. Passage of the bill would restrict hunting, access and even rock collecting in 10,000-square miles of desert of which the East Mojave represents 25%.

TIM KEYES, Huntington Beach

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As a 10-year member of the Sierra Club and a field geologist who has devoted over 15 years to study of the California desert, I support the overall goals of the California Desert Protection Act (S 21). There is, however, a problem with the legislation.

The California desert is a valuable scientific resource for society that deserves protection and study. It is now among the most intensively studied geological laboratories in the world. As just one example, it is the birthplace of a recent revolution in geological thinking about how the Earth's continental crust rifts open to form ocean basins.

Regrettably, the version of S 21 recently passed by the Senate will restrict access to such an extent that serious scientific investigation of most of the region will come to a screeching halt.

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