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California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act 

It took a long time, but with the passage of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act on March 19, 2009, signed by the President on March 30, the multi-year effort to expand wilderness protection in the Eastern Sierra reached fruition.

Several years ago, Rep. McKeon (R.) told residents of Inyo and Mono Counties that if they could agree on a bill that designated some of the long existing Wilderness Study Areas as wilderness and released other WSAs, he would introduce the bill in Congress and work to secure its passage. A working group was formed with representatives from various user groups and other interested parties that came up with an initial compromise proposal.  Although opposition, especially from some snowmobile groups, stalled the initial plan, Rep. McKeon continued to work towards an acceptable bill.

Hearings were held at various locations in our two counties, with representatives of Rep. McKeon and Senator Boxer in attendance, culminating in the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act bill submitted to Congress by Rep. McKeon and Sen. Boxer last year. The bill did not come to a vote due partly to time constraints in the 2008 Congressional session, but it was incorporated along with 105 other bills into the Omnibus bill passed in 2009.

Range of Light members joined with other wilderness supporters lobbying for the bill, attending the numerous meetings, and writing letters to drum up local support. In the end, the Mono County supervisors as well as the Town of Mammoth Lakes strongly supported the bill, while Inyo County and the  City of Bishop opposed the bill. This is reflected in the new White Mountains wilderness area whose southern border follows the county line between Mono and Inyo counties rather than a natural geographical line. Rep. McKeon made the point to opponents that the area to be added to wilderness under this bill was much less than desired by wilderness supporters and was the best that opponents could hope for under the new administration.

Each of us had some favorite areas that were not included in order achieve a compromise bill. And the Leavitt Bowl was legally opened to snowmobile use. Of the 700,000 California acres included in the Omnibus Bill, roughly 430,000 acres are wilderness additions in the Eastern Sierra. In addition, about 29,000 acres were designated as the Ancient Bristlecone National Forest, ensuring additional protection to these most ancient trees. Finally, Wild and Scenic River designation (and protection) was given to about 31 miles of the Owens River Headwaters and the Amargosa River.

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P.O. Box 1973, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

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Page Last Updated February 22, 2014