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Wilderness Update
November 2002

Senator Diane Feinstein (D) has become increasingly concerned with the agenda of the environmental movement and its effect on our state and country. Senator Feinstein is under attack by environmentalists for her refusal to support Senator Boxers Wilderness Bill. She is also under attack for her support of the Healthy Forests Initiative.

Please support Senator Feinstein in her efforts to bring sanity to the management of our Forests.

Below is a story from the Sacramento Bee discussing Senator Feinstein's reluctance to support Senator Boxer's wilderness bill:

Wilderness bill hangs in election balance
Boxer's effort to designate more protected areas may also depend on Feinstein's influence.

By David Whitney -- Bee Washington Bureau
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Friday, November 1, 2002,

WASHINGTON -- As environmentalists gear up for battle next year over wilderness legislation unveiled this spring by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the fate of her bill may well depend on the outcome of the November elections and the moderating influence of Boxer's colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Boxer introduced the legislation, dubbed the California Wild Heritage Act, in May. It proposes to add 2.5 million acres to the state's wilderness inventory of some 14 million acres and extend additional protections to another 440 miles of rivers and streams.

The bill has won the endorsements of a long list of state and local leaders, and is backed by the state Legislature. But wilderness remains highly controversial on Capitol Hill, and with Republicans likely to retain control of the House after November and perhaps regain control of the Senate, enacting the legislation in the next Congress is looking increasingly problematic.

In addition, Feinstein, D-Calif., has yet to endorse the legislation. Her support is vital because she sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and would be the legislation's only California advocate as it moves through what is certain to be a contentious committee process.

If Republicans regain control of the Senate, the panel will be headed by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who consistently scores at the bottom of the League of Conservation Voters ratings.

"We know we are up against a lot of opposition," Boxer said in an interview, adding that "it gets even harder" if Craig is running the show.

Feinstein said recently that she is carefully looking over Boxer's bill.

"There is a lot in this bill that I'll certainly support," Feinstein said. "There are things in it that I probably wouldn't. Next year we'll sit down and address that."

Aides to Boxer and Feinstein have begun meeting about the wilderness legislation, but it's not clear how extensive a rewrite will be required.

"Sen. Feinstein supports the concept of our bill, but said she has concerns she'd like to discuss," Boxer said. "I don't know if that deletes a couple of areas or adds a couple."

But environmentalists are starting to balk at the idea of further modifications to Boxer's bill, saying it already is one of the most negotiated pieces of wilderness legislation ever introduced in Congress.

Ilysia Shattuck of the California Wild Heritage Campaign said more than 7 million acres of federal lands are suitable for adding to California's existing wilderness inventory, but two-thirds of that was excluded from the Boxer bill after county-by-county negotiations to identify the best, least controversial areas for inclusion.

Tim Mahoney, a private wilderness consultant who is representing environmentalists in trying to help smooth the path for Boxer's bill on Capitol Hill, said the strategy has been to build local support so that the bill withstands attack by opponents who regard wilderness as an abridgement of local control.

"This is not like other wilderness bills where environmentalists get someone to introduce legislation and then nothing happens," Mahoney said. "This is meant to be viable legislation. This isn't just a list of wilderness areas we'd like to see."

Placer County wilderness areas reflect the kind of process environmentalists now hope to play as their trump card, even if it won't sway the adamant, ideological opposition by the area's congressman, Rocklin Republican John Doolittle.

The proposed wilderness area is along the north fork of the American River, virtually adjacent to Interstate 80. Roughly 80,000 acres of the Tahoe National Forest in the county was determined to qualify for wilderness addition, but the areas included in Boxer's legislation are half that.

"We didn't want to take away any existing trails from anybody," said Placer County Supervisor Rex Bloomfield. The result, he said, is wilderness inclusions supported by all five supervisors.

Even as late as this summer, changes to Boxer's bill were still being negotiated.

In July, two months after Boxer's bill was introduced, Nevada County supervisors voted to slash the size of the proposed Grouse Lakes and Castle Peaks areas of their county.

Excited that the bill includes the county's first wilderness areas, the supervisors nonetheless shrunk the size of the protected areas they'd support by 3,000 acres, or roughly 10 percent, as the result of a deal between local wilderness advocates and mountain biking enthusiasts, the most vocal critics of the Boxer bill.

"Sen. Boxer wanted very much for this to be a package for everybody," said Supervisor Barbara Green. "When what was originally proposed wasn't acceptable to everybody, she told us to work it out."

"We're really pleased we could have a compromise here," said John Gardiner, Northern California representative of the International Mountain Biking Association. "We'd like to see more of that throughout the state, but it is my understanding that negotiations elsewhere have pretty much gone nowhere."

With Congress in recess until after the Nov. 5 elections and no chance of reviving Boxer's measure until after a new Congress is seated in January, it appears that a stalemate of sorts has settled in on California wilderness.

Boxer said the legislation she'll reintroduce next year is unlikely to be changed, except for minor tinkering along the lines of the Nevada County deal.

"This is landmark legislation," she said. "We haven't had a statewide wilderness bill since 1984. If we don't do this, we are not doing our job as environmental stewards."

Mountain biking organizations say Feinstein now is their best hope for further modifications.

"We are very frustrated by Sen. Boxer, to put it bluntly, and very satisfied with Sen. Feinstein's input," said Dwayne Strawser, who helped negotiate the Nevada County deal for local mountain bicyclists.

"The whole wilderness initiative is going forth from Sen. Boxer," added Gardiner. "Sen. Feinstein is more hesitant, and it is not at all clear she supports it."

Still, said Gardiner, his association supports 70 percent of what's in the Boxer bill. And, for those areas in dispute, he thinks a compromise can be reached.

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