Letter to the Editor: Land bill would protect large part of wild California | SierraSun.com

Letter to the Editor: Land bill would protect large part of wild California

David Lass

Recently, the Senate approved 73-21 an omnibus package of more than 160 public lands, water and resources bills. S. 22 will now move to the House, where Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has said there is great likelihood it will be approved promptly by the full chamber.

If passed in the House, this legislation would permanently protect millions of acres of public lands, including some of California’s best fishing and hunting grounds.

S. 22, the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, would enhance California’s natural heritage, and conserve fishing and hunting opportunities, by creating or adding to federal Wilderness areas, and giving special designations to several rivers. S.22 has rare bipartisan support in Congress, and land protection measures included in it were initiated by legislators from both parties.

S. 22 would safeguard important habitat for native trout and wildlife, and ensure that sportsmen will be able to access, free of charge, famous fishing and hunting destinations in California such as the Upper Owens River, Piru Creek, the West Walker River headwaters, and the D-11 and X-12 deer zones.

S. 22 is one of the best conservation bills to come before Congress in the last 25 years, in terms of benefit to hunters and anglers. That’s why Trout Unlimited has endorsed this legislation, and urge its rapid passage.

California legislators have made major contributions to S. 22. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon and Sen. Barbara Boxer worked for years to draft and build support for the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act, one of the bills incorporated into the omnibus lands package.

The McKeon-Boxer bill would designate more than 450,000 acres of land in the Eastern Sierra and San Gabriel Mountains as federal Wilderness, and segments of three California rivers as Wild and Scenic.

Another component of S.22 would implement the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement, a decades-long effort championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would re-water the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, recover the major salmon and steelhead populations that once ran in California’s third largest river, and conclude one of the state’s most bitter water wars.

On behalf of California’s more than two million sportsmen, we thank Rep. McKeon, Sen. Boxer, and Sen. Feinstein for their commitment to conserving our rivers and roadless lands ” critical habitat for game and endangered trout, salmon and steelhead.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the Senate’s notorious “Dr. No,” had been the most vocal opponent of S. 22. Coburn used erroneous information to try to discredit the bill, claiming, for example, that the San Joaquin Restoration Settlement will cost $1 billion to recover just 500 salmon, when in fact the settlement will cost substantially less and targets the recovery of 30,000 salmon to the San Joaquin.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, bolstered by the clear support of a strong majority of legislators from both parties, took action to move past the procedural roadblocks thrown up by Coburn, clearing the way for the Senate to take its final vote on S.22, passing it last week.

S.22 deserves to be considered on its merits rather than on misinformation. Despite critics’ claims, this legislation would not remove vast quantities of oil and gas from future production nor undermine water rights, and most of its provisions would be “budget-neutral.”

In fact, given the amount of land and habitat that would be conserved, this bill could reasonably be viewed as a “bargain” to the American taxpayer.

Every year, more and more land is developed, posted No Trespassing, or otherwise made unavailable for parents to take their kids outdoors.

S.22 will protect some of our last, best wild country, so that future generations will have the same opportunities to fish and hunt these lands as we do today.

Trout Unlimited urges the House to follow the lead of the Senate to support the excellent of work of Boxer, Feinstein and McKeon, and pass this bill. S.22 will likely be one of the first bills waiting on President-elect Obama’s desk when he takes office next week.

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