Barbara Boxer tries to move Pinnacles park bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday almost engineered a surprise vote to upgrade the Pinnacles National Monument near Soledad to national park status.

The park bill by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Monterey, passed the House unopposed on Tuesday. Senate passage by unanimous consent on the last day of work before the August recess would have been a major coup, sending the bill directly to President Obama for enactment.

The Pinnacles legislation has been blocked in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by an unrelated partisan dispute over a Native American land swap in Alaska which has held up more than 60 public lands bills.

Local officials hope a park designation for the area, a favorite of Bay Area rock climbers and home to endangered California condors, would boost tourism in the depressed towns of Hollister and Soledad. German and French tourists flock to national parks but ignore national monuments.

Boxer extricated the Pinnacles bill from the Alaska mess by securing an agreement from committee chair Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to allow the Pinnacles bill to bypass the committee and move directly to a floor vote.

But at the last minute, an unidentified Senator put a “hold” on the bill over another unrelated dispute. Thus does the Senate conduct its work.

Nonetheless, the bill has been released by the committee and now awaits action by the full Senate when it returns in September. The park designation is uncontroversial because it does not cost any money and will not change the management or size of the protected area.

Paul Spitler, wilderness director for the Wilderness Society, said the area boasts about 400 species of bees, the largest such concentration in the world, during spectacular spring wildflower blooms.

While tiny next to Death Valley’s three million acres, or Yosemite’s 761,000 acres, the Pinnacles would be similar in size to other small national parks such as South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park.