Boxer tenacious in quest to protect wilderness | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Boxer tenacious in quest to protect wilderness

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A bill that would protect about 2.5 million acres of California wilderness, thousands of which are close to South Shore, will be reintroduced this spring by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

“The basic bones of the bill I don’t believe will change,” said Tom Bohigian, deputy state director for Boxer. “Some minor language adjustments will be made, what I call refinements … as far as boundaries (changes) in your area, there aren’t any.”

The bill, called the California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, was first presented to Congress last May. It must be reintroduced this year because a new Congress was seated in January. The bill must again be assigned to a committee before it could be voted on and there is no way to predict if Congress will act on it this year, Bohigian said.

The bill aims to classify Meiss Meadows and Caples Creek, about 43,000 acres of land north of Highway 88, as wilderness. The designation is the highest environmental protection allowed. If approved, it would mean people could only tread the land, which is popular with outdoor recreationalists, on foot or horseback — not by snowmobile or mountain bike.

In April 2002, dozens of South Shore residents concerned about the then proposed bill attended a Roundtable Community meeting in Meyers. The heated discussion focused on the fact that the legislation could mean the elimination of some of their favorite off-road paths.

“Bottom line is that a certain people are opposed to it, but there are a whole lot of people in favor of it,” Bohigian said.

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“We feel those areas have greater potential by allowing a wider range of recreation,” said Dave Hamilton, a board member of the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association. “The wilderness thing pretty much locks everyone else out except for a few people who want to enjoy it a certain way.

“It’s not wilderness in terms of the way it was hundreds of years ago,” Hamilton said. “The whole area got completely logged out. The Forest Service could do better resource management. Wilderness means pretty much ‘don’t touch, let nature takes its course.'”

At the time the Roundtable meeting last year, 31,000 acres in the Freel Peak area were included in the act. Boxer agreed not to pursue protection of the land after protests from South Shore mountain bikers. Freel is home to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a nationally known mountain bike trail.

Boxer’s bill won its first victory in December when President Bush signed into law a wilderness designation to protect 54,000 acres at Big Sur in the Los Padres Forest. The Big Sur area was included in the California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act.

At the end of March, Boxer and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, introduced to Congress another piece of the Wilderness Act. It is being called the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act of 2003 and would protect more than 300,000 acres and 21 river miles.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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