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Wilderness bill lives on in new form

A bill that would make Meiss Meadows and other land in California protected wilderness gained momentum Tuesday.

The bill, the California Wild Heritage Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in May, would designate 2.5 million acres throughout the state as wilderness, which bans mountain bikes, snowmobiles and other mechanized equipment from the land.

The momentum was created Tuesday after a bill called the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002, which mimics a portion of Boxer’s bill, was passed by the Senate.



If it is signed by President Bush, it will protect 57,000 acres of forest near Big Sur, an area south of Carmel in the Los Padres National Forest.

“Sen. Boxer looks at this as getting the ball rolling, start momentum for the larger bill,” said David Sandretti, spokesman for the senator. “She’s very pleased.”




The U.S. Congress, comprised of the House of Representatives and Senate, will be back in session Jan. 11.

“The entire bill is obviously something that will take a while,” Sandretti said. “It is a very ambitious piece of legislation. She’s has been working on it for over two years now. It’s a slow process. We have a lot of work to do. We have start and feel very good about that.”

In August, the California State Senate and Assembly passed a resolution supporting the Wild Heritage Protection Act. Many South Lake Tahoe residents oppose the bill because it would ban mountain bikes from cherished trails.

The Meiss Meadows area, about 15-square miles that stretch along the southern rim of Lake Tahoe Basin from Luther to Carson Pass, was close to wilderness designation as part of the California Wilderness Act of 1984.

The act passed, but a piece of land that included Meiss was removed from the bill, said Don Lane, a longtime U.S. Forest Service recreation officer.

The U.S. Forest Service has maintained Meiss as a roadless area since the 1950s. Mountain bikes are allowed on the land, but all vehicles, including snowmobiles, have been banned at Meiss since 1988.

Snowmobiles, dirt bikes and off-road vehicles are permitted in certain parts of Caples Creek, an area nearby also included in the protection act.

At one point, the Freel Peak area was included in the act, but Boxer removed the 31,000-acres of land from consideration after protests from South Shore mountain bikers. Freel is home to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a nationally known mountain bike trail.

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


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