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Bills propose more wilderness areas

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Companion bills sponsored by Del Norte County representatives are facing opposition from some local officials and interest groups.

If passed, the bills will designate 2.5 million acres of public land in California as wilderness areas, including portions of the Six Rivers National Forest. Wilderness areas prohibit access to motorized vehicles, mountain bicycles and hiking groups larger than 12 people per group.

"We're going to oppose them quite vigorously," said Don Amador, the western representative of the BlueRibbon Coalition, a group supporting off-road use on public land. "Wilderness areas prohibit both mechanized and motorized equipment use in the areas."

The first bill appeared in May and is sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer. The "California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act of 2002" was met with immediate resistance from California Congressman George Rad-anovich, the chairman of the National Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee.

"Your legislation would ... lead to visitors no longer being welcome on our public lands, except for the privileged few. I want more people to enjoy our public lands and waterways, not fewer," Radanovich wrote in a strongly worded letter to Boxer last month.

This week, two companion bills sponsored by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Napa), HR 4948 and HR 4949, specifically address the proposed areas in Northern California.

"This would affect 33,750 acres in Del Norte, which is part of the Siskiyou proposed wilderness additions," said Jonathon Birdsong from Thompson's office. "They were just introduced this week and they have a long process to go through. They will eventually be referred to the House Resources Committee and then to a subcommittee. I doubt we'll see anything before next year."

David Sandretti of Boxer's office said her Senate bill has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Boxer is still seeking additional support for it.

According to maps supplied by Sandretti, most of the acreage in Del Norte and Siskiyou counties to be designated as wilderness are several disconnected pockets that are already bordering the existing Siskiyou Wilderness Area. The new additions include Broken Rib, Bear Basin, Blue Ridge, Wooly Bear and Blue Creek areas.

Boxer's press release issued last May claimed to have support from several agencies, local communities, ranchers and businesses. But an included endorsement from "mountain bikers" appears to have been less than accurate.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) said the wilderness designations are too stringent and is proposing other alternatives for protecting public lands from potential abuse.

"Since bicycling is prohibited in wilderness areas, and because we support increased protection for public lands, the International Mountain Bicycling Association encourages both new wilderness areas and congressional designation of alternatives to wilderness," wrote Gary Sprung, IMBA advocacy consultant.

Sprung's alternative is to revamp regulations for the currently-lax national conservation areas and use this designation instead of wilderness designations.

Under the current proposal, the IMBA has recommended several boundary changes and trail exclusions, the nearest being the Dillon Creek Trail near Happy Camp in Siskiyou County.

Boxer said last month her bill is a needed in California to protect public lands from any activity that disturbs the landscape.

"It is crucial that we protect these precious places before it is too late," said Boxer. "During the last 20 years, 675,000 acres of unprotected wilderness – approximately the size of Yosemite National Park – have lost their wilderness character due to all sorts of activities such as logging and mining."

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