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Wilderness Alert

Orange County Register's Article on our Wilderness Fight Here In Orange County

The following was taken from the Saturday, May 11, issue of the Orange County Register:

May 11, 2002

By JIM RADCLIFFE and MATTHEW L. GREEN

The Orange County Register

TRABUCO CANYON -- Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., today will announce a bill that would designate 2.5 million acres of federal land throughout California as official wilderness - but not four canyons in the Cleveland National Forest above Orange County.

Her decision to pull those canyons from the plan is a victory for many of the 1,000 mountain bikers who ride there and for Riverside County officials who want to keep all options open for a possible mountain highway to Orange County.

"I am ecstatic," said Chris Vargas, 43, a co-executive director of the Warriors Society, a group of 60 avid mountain bikers who frequently ride the 50 miles of steep trails that would have been off-limits. "We were confident that we would win."

But Boxer's plan is a setback for members of the 150 environmental groups that sought to include the Santa Ana Mountains in their California Wild Heritage Campaign. Machines are barred from wilderness areas, so the designation would block the highway, reservoirs and a hydroelectric plant proposed in the mountains - and mountain bikes, which are considered mechanized vehicles.

"I would say I am disappointed in how it turned out," said Bob Loeffler, 47, another Warriors Society biker who supported most of the wilderness proposal. "It's kind of a hollow victory."

Mountain bikers began lobbying in August to keep 23,500 acres just east of Trabuco Canyon off the Wild Heritage list.

Boxer considered Trabuco Canyon and Ladd Canyon, with 7,000 acres, on Orange County's eastern edge and Morrell and Coldwater canyons, with a collective 10,500 acres, nearby in Riverside County.

After strong protests by the mountain bicyclists, the wilderness campaign reluctantly asked that Trabuco be taken off Boxer's list.

Had Ladd, Coldwater and Morrell canyons been declared wilderness, a proposed freeway connecting Riverside and Orange counties would have been easier to block because large stretches would have been off-limits, said Paul Carlton, a San Clemente resident on the Sierra Club's Santa Ana Mountains Task Force. So would two long-planned mountaintop reservoirs.

"As a whole, I'm sure it will do a lot of good," Carlton said of Boxer's bill. "But just locally, we didn't do so well. ... It's politics as usual. It's a shame."

Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer's state director, would not elaborate on why the four areas in the Cleveland forest were dropped. She said Boxer considered local input and that Riverside County representatives made it clear they wanted the chance to pursue a mountain freeway.

"We're pleased that it won't preclude any options," said Riverside County Supervisor Tom Mullen. A potential mountain highway route hasn't been selected.

One of several potential freeway routes that Riverside is exploring would run near Rancho Santa Margarita. Mayor James Thor said he was concerned that the push for wilderness designations has died, but he called the freeway a "pipe dream."

Effects in other areas of the state would halt U.S. Forest Service proposals to drill for oil in portions of Los Padres National Forest on the central coast and to log in the Duncan Canyon area of Tahoe National Forest.

Boxer has no support for expanding the wilderness areas among California's 20 Republicans in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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