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Wilderness protection bill gets House OK

The legislation gives maximum federal protection to more than 2 million acres in nine states, including more than 700,000 acres in California. Obama is expected to sign it into law this year.

March 26, 2009|Richard Simon and Bettina Boxall

Environmentalists went to court two decades ago to get back some of the San Joaquin's water and won a court settlement in 2006. The legislation authorizes the federal government to carry out the settlement and spend $88 million on restoration efforts.

"It's going to initiate one of the largest river restoration projects in the nation. It's a great day," said Monty Schmitt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been involved in the river fight since its inception.

Under the settlement, farmers will give up some of their irrigation supplies. Altogether, more than $400 million in state and federal funds and environmental fees will be spent on restoration and water management projects to help farmers offset their irrigation losses.

Schmitt said the goal was to have spring chinook salmon swimming up the San Joaquin within three years.

During Wednesday's debate, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) contended that the settlement would hurt farmers. "If this Congress isn't capable of delivering water to people, perhaps we can ask the United Nations for help," he said. "Maybe they would be willing to deliver water, distribute humanitarian aid and rebuild the San Joaquin Valley."

But Rep. George Radanovich, a fellow Central Valley Republican, said that the settlement would resolve a years-long legal battle that threatened farmers' water supply, and that it "gives the agricultural community some control over their water future."

The new wilderness designations will be the latest additions to the 107-million acre National Wilderness Preservation System, created when President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964.

The measure's passage has emboldened environmentalists to push for even more wilderness designation.

Boxer is working to protect an additional 1.4 million acres of wilderness in California, including areas in the Angeles, Klamath, Lassen and Los Padres national forests.

All of California's Democratic representatives supported the bill. (As House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco usually doesn't vote, but she said she backed the bill.)

All of the state's Republicans voted against it except for Rep. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs and McKeon, who also sponsored bills to create wilderness areas in their districts. Rep. Gary G. Miller of Diamond Bar did not vote.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

bettina.boxall@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Key wilderness bill provisions

The House on Wednesday approved a bill designating more than 2 million acres of wilderness across nine states, from California to Virginia. The legislation also sets aside President Clinton's childhood home in Hope, Ark., as a national historic site. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature. Among the provisions, by state:

California

* Preserve nearly 450,000

acres of wilderness and 73

miles of wild and scenic rivers

near Santa Clarita and along

the California-Nevada state line, including the White Mountains.

* Protect about 190,000 acres in Riverside County as wilderness, including parts of Joshua Tree National Park.

* Protect about 70,000 acres of wilderness, including the new John Krebs Wilderness, named for the conservationist and former congressman who fought to protect these lands in the Mineral King Valley.

Colorado

* Protect nearly 250,000

acres of Colorado's Rocky

Mountain National Park.

* Protect 66,000 acres of red

rock sandstone canyons, cliffs, streams and waterfalls in western Colorado.

Idaho

* Protect as wilderness

517,000 acres in Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands.

Michigan

* Protect 11,739 acres of wilderness at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

New Mexico

* Protect more than 15,000

acres in San Miguel County as

wilderness.

Oregon

* Protect 13,700 acres of old-growth forest in Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest.

* Protect more than 128,000

acres of national forest on

Mt. Hood.

* Protect nearly 31,000 acres of wilderness in the Badlands just east of Bend.

Utah

* Protect more than 250,000

acres of wilderness in and near Zion National Park.

Virginia

* Protect 43,000 acres of the

Jefferson National Forest as

wilderness, and 12,000 as a national scenic area.

West Virginia

* Protect 37,000 acres in the Monongahela National Forest.

Source: Associated Press

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