Protest of Boxer bill planned | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Protest of Boxer bill planned

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday not to support legislation that would ban mountain bikes, snowmobiles and dirt bikes from popular trails at Meiss Meadows and the Caples Creek area.

The 4-0 vote occurred in Placerville at a scheduled board meeting. Supervisor Penny Humphreys did not vote because she was out of the state.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer on May 21, is called the California Wild Heritage Act. It aims to designate a total of 2.5 million acres of land as wilderness, which would only allow people to enter the land on foot. The state already has 14 million acres of wilderness.

“It is the local influence and local prescription of responsibilities that can best address and balance the issues of recreational use … not a designation of Wilderness under this proposed bill,” states a position paper drafted by Dave Solaro, chairman of the Board of Supervisors who represents South Shore, and Supervisor Helen Baumann.

A rally to protest the bill, which may not be heard by a Senate committee until next year, is planned Thursday at the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento. It’s being organized by off-road enthusiasts from El Dorado County and other groups.

“If you look at most people who go off-road, they are environmentalists,” said Jon Crowley Jr., 37, of Shingle Springs, a member of The Friends of the Rubicon, an off-highway advocacy group. “The environmental movement has been skewed over the last decade. Basically they want to lock up the land and not let anybody but able-bodied 30-year-olds go in with their backpacks.”

Congressman John Doolittle of Rocklin and State Assemblyman Tim Leslie, both Republicans, also have said they oppose the bill.

“I believe that a balanced mutiple-use approach to the management of public lands is far preferable to locking lands away,” Leslie said. “I am especially worried that wilderness designation will produce a greater threat of wildfires spreading out of control. The prohibition of motorized vehicle access severely limits firefighting capabilities.”

In April, Tom Bohigian, deputy state director for Boxer, a Democrat, met with about 15 people in Strawberry to discuss the bill. A week earlier, members of the California Wilderness Coalition held an emotional public meeting about the bill at Meyers.

“We’ve done our homework going out into communities to hear what people think and talking to the stakeholders,” said Jean Munoz, spokeswoman for the California Wilderness Coalition. “California has passed 14 wilderness bills. Every bill introduced has passed. While it doesn’t happen overnight, we’re confident it will pass.”

Right now the bill is in the hands of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“No hearing is presently scheduled but we’re hoping to get moving on it,” said David Sandretti, Boxer’s communication director. “We’re lining up co-sponsors as we speak. We have a limited time frame. We may have to bring it up next year but we’ll see what we can do.”

John Brissenden, owner of Sorensen’s Resort, in Alpine County next to land that would be designated as wilderness, supports the bill.

“I think future generations depend on this generation to look out for the needs of recreation,” Brissenden said. “There are large amounts of resource damage occurring in Meiss Meadows as well as other areas being proposed.”

The League to Save Lake Tahoe said designating Meiss as a wilderness area is the right thing to do.

“It is part of the headwaters for the Upper Truckee River,” said Executive Director Rochelle Nason. “It’s the largest tributary to Lake Tahoe so it’s very important to protect water quality in that area.

“Everyone loves the environment,” Nason said. “We don’t question their interest in enjoying their recreation. We do question whether those needs should take precedence over environmental protection and the needs of low impact hikers.”

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


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