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Wilderness Alert

February 2002


San Diego Trails Community,

There has been quite a bit of concern and confusion lately regarding proposed federal Wilderness here in San Diego County and elsewhere in the state. I'd like to offer what I know about this situation and explain things from my position as a California representative of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Please feel free to pass my comments on to other interested parties.

As many of you may know, there is a strong effort underway led by the California Wild Heritage Campaign, Sierra Club and other conservation-oriented organizations. In addition, those groups have been joined by other community and business organization in pushing for new federal Wilderness in many areas across the state. The campaign has found a champion in the form of Senator Barbara Boxer who would like to be able to bring forth a bill sometime this year that will be popular not only with her environmental constituents but with the voters overall. To that end, Senator Boxer's staff has been taking great pains to win the support of individuals and organizations across the state.

The initial "wish list" for new Wilderness originally proposed by the Wilderness Heritage Campaign contained an extremely large number of areas throughout the state. Many of those areas were plainly unrealistic or inappropriate for Wilderness designation and the majority of them have been removed from the maps as issues and problems have emerged. Here in San Diego County, we are left with only "four" proposed areas and I will discuss them in greater detail in a moment.

The mission of Senator Boxer's staff has been to identify and remove or adjust those areas that would not enjoy community support and might end up sinking the bill that she would like to bring before congress. Again, Senator Boxer wants a successful piece of legislation so she has been removing or modifying many of the most controversial areas. In the end, she wants a "slam dunk" piece of legislation that will easily become law and make her a winner with her constituents.

IMBA's position on all of this is quite interesting. As you may know, Wilderness is currently interpreted to exclude bicycles. What that means is that the one trail user group that explicitly stands to lose the most from new Wilderness is the cyclists. Nevertheless, IMBA is an organization committed to the goals of conservation and environmental protection. IMBA's approach to proposed Wilderness goes like this:

1. Identify areas where we can support proposed Wilderness; 2. Identify other areas that we can support if reasonable boundary adjustments and/or modifications can be made; 3. Identify areas we must oppose because there is significant riding, and work to ensure that the land and its resources are protected with a non-Wilderness designation.

IMBA has long held that we would support Wilderness in appropriate circumstances and some of the proposed areas in the state would seem to qualify for IMBA support. I'll discuss how that relates to San Diego in a moment.

Knowing that bicyclists could be severely hurt by new Wilderness areas, and knowing that bicyclists are a rapidly growing and increasingly potent segment of the recreational trails community, Boxer's staff has actively sought the input and support of the mountain bike community. As an IMBA representative, I have met several times with Senator Boxer's staff regarding the San Diego area. I and other representatives of the mountain bike community have also toured the areas under consideration. Similar meetings and investigations have been taking place throughout the state with IMBA reps and with representatives from many other trail user and conservation groups.

Initially, I did not anticipate the level of concern that I soon began to hear from non-bicycle trail users. As an IMBA representative, I was sure that no one could be more sensitive to the Wilderness issue than myself (Again, bicycles are banned from Wilderness while other non-motorized uses are not.) But after discussing this issue with equestrians and hikers, it quickly became clear that bicyclists aren't the only ones fearful of Wilderness. Although Wilderness does not ban those other non-motor uses, it is clear that many people feel that Wilderness is a first step on a slippery slope toward no access for anyone. I realize that this view is based on a certain mount of direct experience with past (and current) land management decisions, but I am still of the view that the real fault lies with those decisions made after a Wilderness designation rather than with the designation itself. Nevertheless, the trails community has to deal with the reality that eventually manifests at the trailhead and it often isn't good. So, I am very sympathetic to concerns that Wilderness is "the beginning of the end" for responsible and environmentally sound recreation.

Because of that, I want to offer the following overview of the areas of proposed Wildness that are currently under consideration in San Diego County. I will start by saying that each of these four areas has already impressed me enough to win my support as an IMBA representative and my intention is to submit a letter of support on behalf of IMBA. But please bear in mind that such a letter pertains only to the specific areas discussed below and is not an endorsement of the entire Wilderness campaign. Elsewhere in the state, there is far more controversy with respect to the impact that new Wilderness would have on bicycle access. In some areas, virtually all (legitimate) bicycle riding would cease for eternity. And some of those trail systems have been built and are maintained largely or even exclusively by cyclists. So, please view IMBA's support of Wilderness in San Diego within the larger context. Senator Boxer has no intention or desire that I am aware of to submit more than a single bill that will pertain to all new Wilderness throughout the state. If it's a bad bill in the end, it won't win IMBA support - even if the San Diego section got the thumbs up.

The four areas here in San Diego are as follows. Unfortunately, map boundaries are hard to put into words so I suggest is that you do in fact contact Senator Boxer's office to view or retrieve maps. Bear in mind that to the best of my knowledge these are the only areas that currently remain as proposed new Wilderness. You should definitely check with Senator Boxer's staff for changes and updates. My apologies, I don't have the acreages handy.

Eagle Peak Complex

This involves four areas west of Cuyamaca peak and surrounding Boulder Creek Road, Eagle Peak Road and Cedar Creek Road. The areas have been nicknamed Eagle Peak, Sill Hill, San Diego River and "no name." In my analysis, I saw little conflict with bicycle or any other recreational use. The proposed boundary is north of the California Riding & Hiking Trail alignment as it exits Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and I am unaware of other issues that might be controversial. Boulder Creek Road and other existing vehicle roads have been cherry stemmed.

Carrizo Gorge addition

This is an expansion of the existing Carrizo Gorge boundary westward toward McCain Valley Road. Although there are a considerable number of old, eroded dirt roads in the area, the proposed boundaries do not appear to interfere with existing use.

Hauser Wilderness addition

This is a southward expansion of the existing Hauser Creek Wilderness to the edge of USFS property. The PCT is excluded from the boundary and the driveable part of the old road in Hauser Canyon has been cherry stemmed. Unfortunately, this will mean that bicycles will lose access to the undeveloped portion of the Hauser Creek Trail to Lake Barrett

Sawtooth Wilderness addition

This is comprised of two smaller parcels between Sunrise Highway and the Overland Stage Route. It sounds pretty bad, but I think the boundaries avoid any routes that are in use by much of anybody. The PCT is excluded. On the official Cleveland National Forest Map, the areas include all or part of the following parcels in section M9 - 3,4,9,10 & 12,13,14,15,22,23,24.

I realize that the brief descriptions above are not adequate for decision-making so I encourage you to contact Senator Boxer's staff by calling Humberto Peraza at (619) 239-3884 or by email at Humberto_Peraza@boxer.senate.gov. The senator's staff has been very helpful and they have already made boundary adjustments that I suggested for maintaining recreational access. The Senator's offices are in downtown San Diego and they have been very accommodating for viewing the maps and discussing concerns.

If anyone has questions or concerns for me, please don't hesitate to contact me by phone or email.

Daniel Greenstadt

California State Representative - Southern Region
International Mountain Bicycling Association

San Diego County Trails Council
A nonprofit corporation dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of riding, hiking and mountain biking trails www.sdctc.com

San Diego Mountain Biking Association
Education - Trail Maintenance - Land Access

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