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Wilderness Bill Proposed

The State

Legislation: Sen. Boxer seeks to add 2.5 million acres to state's highly protected public land. Opposition is expected.

May 11, 2002|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another 2.5 million acres of public land in California would receive federal wilderness protection under legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer--potentially the third-largest such addition in the state since passage of the Wilderness Act nearly 40 years ago.

The wilderness bill, which Democrat Boxer plans to introduce next week in the Senate, would ban logging, construction and motorized vehicles in 77 areas of the state, ranging from the North Coast to the Eastern Sierra and the Southern California desert.

A coalition of more than 200 groups has been working to gather support for the proposal for several years, and backers say they have assembled a broad range of endorsements, from recreational equipment companies to sporting and environmental groups.

Still, Boxer has no Republican co-sponsors and expects the Bush administration to oppose the bill.

"We know what we're up against. I'm up for it," she said Friday. "To me, California has always been about our state's intrinsic beauty.... We want to make sure that when we have 50 million people by 2025, we have places that are wilderness so people can see what God created."

About three-fourths of the proposed wilderness is in national forests, 21% is in U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings and 5% in national parks. Although already protected by those designations, the "wilderness" status imposes greatly heightened restrictions.

The largest tract, and potentially one of the most controversial, covers 297,000 acres of national forest and Bureau of Land Management land in the White Mountains just east of the Sierra Nevada, where there is a vocal contingent of off-road vehicle users.

Other additions would include:

* 136,000 acres to the John Muir Wilderness in the Sierra.

* A number of tracts in Los Padres National Forest in Southern California, including a 64,000-acre addition to San Rafael Wilderness.

The proposal would also give portions of 22 rivers protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Proponents say their coalition, the California Wild Heritage Campaign, has been talking to advocacy groups for years to fashion a plan that would be acceptable to a range of interests.

The 2.5 million acres outlined in the bill represent roughly a third of the California land eligible for wilderness designation under federal guidelines.

*

Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this report.

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