President Bush on Tuesday signed legislation granting wilderness protection to 275,000 acres of federal land in Northern California, including a spectacular stretch of coastline in Humboldt County.
The largest addition to wilderness in the state in more than a decade, the bill also gives wild and scenic protection to 21 miles of the Black Butte River in Mendocino County.
The bill is one of only a few wilderness proposals to win approval from this Congress. Out of 24 wilderness bills introduced, four have passed both houses and been signed into law.
Roads, structures and motorized uses are all forbidden in wilderness areas, which are to remain in a primitive state, "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain," according to the 1964 Wilderness Act.
The Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act spans five counties and includes both national forest and U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings.
It was sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California.
A centerpiece of the new wilderness is 26 miles of mountain-backed beachfront that is the longest stretch of undeveloped coast in the United States outside of Alaska.
Known as the Lost Coast, it is a place of rocky headlands, pounding surf and hillsides cloaked in chaparral and golden grass.
To gain bipartisan support, the bill dropped about 25,000 acres from the original proposal, largely to allow continued logging on those lands. It also maintains existing roads by mapping wilderness around 48 miles of routes.
In other concessions the bill establishes the 52,000-acre Cow Mountain Recreation Area in Lake and Mendocino counties, allowing existing mountain bike and off-road vehicle uses there to continue.
The legislation also directs the Interior Department to continue allowing surf-fishing permit holders to drive onto the beach in Redwood National and State Parks.
Though the California bill sets aside more wilderness lands than the other three measures passed by this Congress, it is a fraction of the 2.5 million acres Boxer had proposed for protection in a bill she first introduced in 2002.
"We have made incremental progress and we will continue to," said Dan Smuts, deputy regional director of the Wilderness Society.