Thursday, March 26, 2009

public lands

California Conservation Corps in South Fork area

By Guy McCarthy

RIVERSIDE - Portions of Bautista Creek and the South Fork San Jacinto River in Riverside County are included in a bill passed by Congress this week to provide wilderness protection for 2 million acres of public lands nationwide, officials said today.

The Omnibus Public Lands Act, which affects 190,000 acres in Riverside County and an estimated 700,000 acres in California, requires presidential approval to become law.

The measure has been billed by some advocates as the largest addition to the nation's wilderness system in 15 years.

"Biologists consider Bautista Creek one of the most ecologically important streams in the San Bernardino National Forest, because of the variety of animal and plant species it supports," said Jennifer May, an aide to Rep. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs.

Bono Mack was one of two California Republicans to vote for the bill.

The South Fork San Jacinto River area is already popular with visitors who hike in from state Route 74, May said. A California Conservation Corps crew worked on the South Fork trail last week.

Other Riverside County lands affected by the bill include parts of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, as well as areas in and near Joshua Tree National Park.

Elsewhere in California the bill provides wilderness protection for lands in the East Sierras and in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon area.

"Visitors to these areas now have the promise that these lands will be protected in the future," said Sam Goldman, California coordinator for the non-profit Wilderness Society.

Wilderness protection means preservation of lands for future generations, but it can also mean reduced access for those who enjoy the outdoors on mountain bikes, dirtbikes and other off-road vehicles. Wilderness designation can also lead to restrictions on how rock climbers are allowed to place protective bolts in some areas.

Officials in Joshua Tree, Sequoia-Kings Canyon and the East Sierras indicated in phone interviews today that specific land management changes in their respective areas will not be announced until the bill is signed into law.


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