Federal wilderness protection for California land moves forward


Large swaths of California wild lands would gain federal wilderness protection under legislation that took a step toward approval in the U.S. Senate during a rare Sunday session.

The measure, which would expand the protection to more than 2 million acres of public land nationwide, may be the most significant conservation legislation in a decade, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the bill's manager.

It would designate as wilderness — the government's highest protection — about 190,000 acres in Riverside County, including parts of Joshua Tree National Park; about 450,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra and San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles; and about 90,000 acres in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, including John Krebs Wilderness.

… The proposal is expected to win final Senate approval by the end of the week and then go to the House, where it is also expected to be approved.

… Besides California, wilderness designations would be made in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia. The package of about 160 bills also would designate former President Clinton's childhood home in Hope, Ark., as a national historic site.

The measure also includes initiatives intended to reduce wildfire risk and increase water supplies.