WASHINGTON – The next California wilderness fights will stretch from the desert to the delta in a dicey political environment.
This week, the state’s two Democratic senators set the stage by introducing myriad wilderness-related bills. Their overall prospects are unclear, but their ambitions are undeniable.
“I’ve still got 1 million acres to go,” Sen. Barbara Boxer said of her wilderness aspirations.
In Tehama and Shasta counties, for instance, Boxer wants to designate a 17,869-acre Sacramento River National Recreation Area. East of the Salinas Valley, she calls for upgrading Pinnacles National Monument into a national park.
In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants to create a national heritage area to attract federal funding.
And in the vast Mojave Desert, Feinstein wants to designate a 941,000-acre Mojave Trails National Monument.
Some proposals force stark choices.
Feinstein’s Mojave Trails bill, for instance, would effectively block major wind and solar energy projects planned in the proposed monument region. This could force environmentalists to choose between supporting alternative energy and protecting public lands.
One proposed desert project called for a solar panel farm covering eight square miles of public land.
“I think that we must be cautious when we oppose renewable energy projects on federal lands,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said last year.
Feinstein this week said the proposed wind and solar projects could be relocated to protect what she describes as the “beauty of the massive valleys, pristine dry lakes and rugged mountains.”
Boxer said her California state director, former Fresno City Councilman Tom Bohigian, is evaluating the desert monument legislation.
Many Republicans are skeptical about expanding the federal reach.
“It’s something I will look with a critical eye at,” Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater. “At a time of fiscal crisis, we should be looking at selling properties, not buying them.”
Denham serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, whose chairman, Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, stressed that “federal policies that block access to our resources are making us more reliant on foreign resources that cost American jobs.”
California environmental bills could take several routes to the White House.
Lawmakers can slip individual provisions into larger, unrelated bills. Last year, Feinstein did this with the proposed Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area, but the omnibus legislation failed.
Lawmakers also can promote wilderness bills as stand-alone measures. This works if the bill enjoys bipartisan local support. A Boxer bill to buy the 272-acre Gold Hill Ranch in Coloma, east of Sacramento, would recognize a 19th-century Japanese settlement. It has the support of Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove.
Other bills face long odds. This week, Boxer reintroduced a measure nearly tripling the size of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, all the way to the Mendocino County coast.
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