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Locals laud Heritage Act for protecting wilderness

President Obama expected to sign bill into law Monday

Posted: March 28, 2009 12:50 a.m.
Updated: March 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon holds a news conference on top of a hill near the Bear Divide Ranger Station, Friday afternoon, regarding the sprawling wilderness bill passed in Congress Wednesday.


As a breeze swirled around the hills and birds circled above Friday, a small crowd of nature lovers gathered east of Santa Clarita to hear their congressman extol the sweeping wilderness bill passed by Congress this week.

Joined by representatives from several outdoor associations, Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon held a news conference near the Bear Divide ranger station to discuss the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Mountains Wild Heritage Act, part of the omnibus wilderness bill passed in the House Wednesday.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law Monday.

The bill backed by McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, protects 470,000 acres of wilderness in California - some 14,000 of those acres in the Magic Mountain wilderness east of Highway 14 and south of Sand Canyon.

"After years of working with local (groups), we finally have a practical solution to preserve our wild heritage," McKeon told a group of about 35 Friday.

The congressman worked closely with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in shaping the bill.

"Sen. Boxer and I are probably on opposite poles politically, but we were able to work together," he said. "That's the beauty of our system."

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurie Ender, flanked by other officials including Councilwoman Marsha McLean, spoke briefly, as did representatives from Friends of the River, the Community Hiking Club, Trout Unlimited, the Santa Clarita Casting Club and The Wilderness Society.

"This is our backyard," Dick Harris of the Casting Club said with a sweep of his arm toward the hills behind him. "The beauty of (this bill) is there are many backyards across California like this that are going to be protected."

The Wild Heritage Act also preserves 420,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra.

One of the largest congressional districts in the state, McKeon's 25th includes the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys and stretches north to Mono and Inyo counties.

The bill is a small part of the sweeping Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, which included 160 separate wilderness-preserving bills, protecting some two million acres in nine states.

"This is a huge, huge day of celebration," Ender said.


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