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Wilderness Alert 08/11/02

Our goal is to defeat this bill!

In this Wilderness Update:
1. Boxer's Wilderness Bill still sitting
2. Senator Feinstein seeks exemption to lawsuits against logging and road building to prevent catastrophic fires

1. BOXER'S BILL STILL SITTING

By Darcy Ellis
The Inyo Register News staff
08/05/2002

But companion House bill has reached subcommittee study

While proponents and opponents argue about the chances of Senator Barbara Boxer's wilderness legislation reaching fruition, a companion bill to Boxer's is progressing farther in the House of Representatives.

As opponents cite a lack of support for Boxer's attempts to designate parts of the state wilderness via the Senate, co-sponsors are tacking their names to a growing list in support of the House bill that identifies local lands for the designation.

Boxer first introduced her California Wild Heritage Act of 2002 to the Senate May 21, at which point it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources where it still sits more than two months later.

Rep. Hilda Solis, of Napa Valley, meanwhile, had developed a companion bill that covered essentially all lands mentioned in Boxer's legislation in the southern half of the state - including Eastern Sierra public lands proposed for wilderness designation. Known as the Southern California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, it has been in committee for a lesser period of time than Boxer's senate bill and already has 20 times the co-sponsors.

Rep. Mike Thompson of El Monte simultaneously sponsored a bill that covered Boxer's proposed wilderness areas in the northern part of the state. Both were introduced to the House June 17.

Solis' bill, numbered H.R. 4947, was at that time referred to the House Committee on Resources. On June 27, it was referred to both the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands and the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health for further study and hearings.

The House also requested executive comment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service among other entities.

As of Wednesday, Solis' bill was supported by 20 co-sponsors (whose names can be found on the Library of Congress website). Among those mentioned are Rep. Maxine Waters, Thompson and Rep. George Miller.

To date, Boxer's senate counterpart has zero co-sponsors.

According to the American Gas Association's 107th Congress Directory, it is while a bill is in committee (when it is placed on that committee's calendar) that it is carefully examined and its chances for passage are determined. It is lack of support and action so far in regards to Boxer's legislation that has local opponents citing those chances as slim and claiming temporary victory.

Rex Allen and Dick Noles, co-chairs of the outspoken Advocates for Access to Public Lands, recently reported they feel confident in word received from various congressmen's offices that Boxer's bill will not be acted upon this session. Allen reported that the "consensus view in Congress" is that lack of support in the Senate has caused the bill's proponents to withdraw it this year to "try again next year."

Allen, although encouraged by the news, acknowledges the bill's opponents are still in for a "long war.

"We are very pleased nothing is going to happen this year. It gives us more maneuvering room," he said. "(But) I am of two minds on this. The best of all scenarios would be for it to be voted out of committee and killed on the floor. (But) we're still getting up to speed. It's nice to have a little bit more time to get us all on the same page."

Boxer's state deputy director Tom Bohigian, meanwhile, acknowledges that no action may be taken on the bill this year, but refutes assertions that the legislation is by any means dead or defeated.

"We know nothing about that," he said, referring to rumors the bill had been pulled, "and the fact of the matter is it hasn't been tabled or iced or anything like that." Efforts are still moving forward, he reported, and "we're continuing to be optimistic and hopeful."

Bohigian, who has repeatedly and publicly stated that no one expects anything on the bill to happen overnight, said, "There's nothing about this process that is fast.

"There's still a ways to go in the session this year," he continued, adding," but of course anything can happen."

He said, however, that he believes there is nothing to indicate the bill is ill-fated. Bohigian also takes exception with the view held by opponents that Boxer's bill lacks support.

"I think we have got tremendous support from most parts of the state," he said, citing "elected officials" and "thousands" of private citizens. "I think that public support is growing," Bohigian concluded, saying, "We feel great about the Eastern Sierra."

Allen nevertheless still questions the support of elected officials in the senate. He points to Sen. Diane Feinstein as an example, explaining the she is a member of the committee where Boxer's legislation has been referred.

She has yet to publicly support the bill, or as Allen reported, mentor it while in committee - which at this point appears to still be examining the legislation.

According to the procedures established for a bill to become law, if the committee does not act on a bill, "it is the equivalent of killing it," as noted in the AGA's directory.

©The Inyo Register 2002

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

2. SENATOR FEINSTEIN SEEKS EXEMPTION TO LAWSUITS AGAINST LOGGING AND ROAD BUILDING TO PREVENT CATASROPHIC FIRES

From various news sources

Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California joined 12 Republican senators in identified 23 million acres of federal land constituting what they described as a "vast, dry tinderbox" that could ignite at the careless drop of a match. California has 7 million of the 23 million acres scattered among the 50 states under federal control.

Feinstein stated "We have to move quickly otherwise we risk losing the majesty of the West."

Wilderness Designations do not allow the type of fire suppression proposed by the senators, which exposes the forests to the same type of catastrophic fires that have devastated not only the Forests in the Western U.S., but also the various species that call the forest home.

Many within the Forest Service and those involved in firefighting, in local cities, counties and the state, have voiced their objections to Boxer's wilderness bill because of the negative effect it would have on fire suppression and firefighting.

Tom Bohigian, Boxer's deputy state director keeps insisting that wilderness designations won't affect fire fighting.

But Jim Wright, deputy director of fire protection for the California Department of Forestry, said it's not that simple. He has seen wilderness fires grow because federal officials would not use a bulldozer to carve out a firebreak.

And while most federal agencies like the Forest Service are willing to negotiate on firefighting tactics - especially when fires threaten state-owned land - Wright has often agreed to tactics less aggressive than he would normally use.

"Once (a fire) is in a wilderness area, it's going to get bigger because of the prohibitions you have," Wright said. "You cannot . . . get right next to the fire line and work it directly with fire engines."

Bohigian's assurances have not persuaded the Regional Council of Rural Counties to drop its opposition to Boxer's plan. The council's 29 members represent half of the state's 58 counties. "I had a fire in my district, and when it went into (federal) wilderness areas, we had to just watch it go up the sides of the mountain," said council Chairwoman Linda Arcularius, who is also chairwoman of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. "The engines couldn't go in, and a lot of their field crews couldn't go in."

Susan Swenson of the Angeles National Forest also refutes Tom Bohigian claims that wilderness does not affect fire fighting. She wrote the following on behalf of Angeles Forest Supervisor Jody Cook to Tim Alyn, the Wild Heritage Campaign wilderness coordinator:

"My primary concern regarding the proposed wildernesses is for fire management issues. Wilderness designation affects vegetation management and fire suppression capability. This is of particular concern in the areas proposed closest to urban interface areas, such as the area you delineated west, south and east of Placerita Canyon State Park, and the area you delineated around Silver Mountain. In addition, the Pleasant View and Magic Mountain areas are adjacent to private lands to the north posing fire risks to those lands."

"Congress has tasked the USDA Forest Service, along with other agencies, to increase fire management in high-risk areas by increasing fire suppression capability, by increasing vegetation management and by working cooperatively with the communities at risk. The Forest Service National Fire Plan addresses these three tasks. For example, the Placerita and Silver Mountain areas both have vegetation management plans involving the use of mechanized equipment. Designation as wilderness would limit our ability to manage these areas to reduce risk. Suppression techniques in these areas would also be limited, increasing risk to urban interface areas."

These same concerns were expressed in a Cleveland National Forest Palomar District memo:

"Fire management is the single most important aspect to land management on the Cleveland National Forest, Wilderness Area designations will only hinder or limit our ability to manage for fire and suppression activities, regardless of what the Wilderness Act states."

"Fuel management practices (which are both necessary and mandated) will be severely restricted and/or altered by these designations, and may even result in increased environmental damage and impacts."

The senators endorsed a program that would get underway next year and last 18 months. They modeled it on an amendment attached by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to a bill appropriating anti-terrorism fund for the current fiscal year.

The amendment Daschle attached authorizes a forest management program in Black Hills National Forest and will prevent a lengthy judicial review and appeals process.

The far reaching amendment proposed by the senators will more than likely be attached to one of the regular annual spending bills for the next fiscal year.

Over 5.2 million acres of forested land have burned or is expected to burn nationwide by the end of this month, a new record. The devastated forests would leave a 2 1/3 mile wide strip of land from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles. Remember, not only are the forests burn within this strip, but many animal species as well.

The U.S. Forest Service had exhausted its budget to fight the fires and had raided other programs to replace this money.

The 12 GOP Senators are Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, John Kyl of Arizona, Larry E. Craig of Idaho, Conrad R. Burns of Montana, Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska, Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, Micheal D. Crapo of Idaho, and John Ensign of Nevada.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

WRITE U.S. SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN

Senator Feinstein has not yet endorsed the bill and is concerned about not only our access but also the economic effects this bill would have. The first action you can take is to contact U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Senator Feinstein's support is crucial to the advancement of Senator Boxer's bill. Senator Feinstein is carefully examining the proposal and is listening to her constituency. The time to influence her is now!

Due to security concerns, mailed letters are not the best way to convey your concerns. It takes as much as a month between mailing and the opening of a letter by congressional staff. Please send a fax or place a telephone call, then follow with a mailed letter.

PLEASE FAX YOUR LETTERS with the subject line: Oppose Wilderness Bill

Honorable Senator Feinstein
One Post St., #2450
San Francisco, CA 94104

Phone: (415) 393-0707
Email
Fax: (619) 231-1108
Fax: (310) 914-7318
Fax: (415) 989-3242
Fax: (202) 228-3954
Fax: (559) 485-9689

Fax a copy of your message to Senator Boxer.

Honorable Senator Boxer
1700 Montgomery St., #240
San Francisco, CA 94111

Phone: (415) 403-0100
Email
Fax: (213) 894-5012
Fax: (909) 888-8613
Fax: (619) 239-5719
Fax: (559) 497-5111
Fax: (415) 956-6701
Fax: (916) 448-2563

If You Can Do More...

WRITE A HOUSE SPONSOR OF THE BILL -- U.S. Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) will introduce companion bills in the House for northern California and U.S. Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) will do the same for southern California. They, too, are examining the details of Senator Boxer's proposal. Fax your letter to:

Honorable Mike Thompson
119 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0501

Fax: (202) 225-4335
Phone: (202) 225-3311

Honorable Hilda Solis
1641 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0531

Fax: (202) 225-5467
Phone: (202) 225-5464

WRITE YOUR CONGRESSPERSON -- Find the name and address of your member of Congress. Ask your member to speak to Representatives Thompson and Solis about bicycling and the Wilderness bill.

WRITE YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER -- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Learn the address of your local paper.

Messages to television and radio stations, web news sources and discussion groups are also appropriate. Letters to media should be short -- around 200 words. Reasoned discussion is always preferable to inflamed rhetoric. The goal is to persuade others, not to yell.

POINTS TO MAKE IN YOUR LETTER

* State your concern that some of California's best trails will be closed to bikes through Wilderness designations. If you have specific knowledge of areas in Senator Boxer's proposal that overlap great riding, provide that information.

* Mountain bikers support conservation and would support alternative designations such as the Backcountry Designation

* California is the birthplace of mountain biking and home to 2.5 million off-road cycling enthusiasts. We are an important constituency that generates millions of tourism dollars for the state of California. Bicycling adds more than $2 billion annually to the state's economy.

* Citizens need detailed maps of all proposed Wilderness areas to carefully examine this geographically based proposal.

LONG PROCESS AHEAD -- STAY TUNED

To pass, this bill must go through a committee process in the Senate, then a vote of the full Senate. The bill must go through a similar process in the House of Representatives. Once both bills make it through their respective chambers, they must then go to a conference committee to iron out the differences. If the bill doesn't, pass by November, the entire process must start again next year.

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