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Wilderness bill encourages locals

Posted: January 7, 2009 9:39 p.m.
Updated: January 8, 2009 4:59 a.m.

A bill that would protect 450,000 acres of California wilderness, including mountainous land south of the Santa Clarita Valley, was reintroduced into the Senate Wednesday to the delight of local environmentalists.

"It's important to keep these places clean and pristine," said Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, president of the Community Hiking Club. "Who wants to look at a bunch of mines right off Sand Canyon Road?"

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 Wednesday.

If passed, the bill's three provisions would protect 450,000 acres of combined public lands in Riverside County, the Eastern Sierra Nevada and northern San Gabriel Mountains and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks by designating new wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers.

A key Senate committee approved the Eastern Sierra and northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act last fall, but the measure did not make it to law.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., worked with Santa Clarita Valley Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon in a bid to pass the bill during the last congressional session.

During an interview Monday, R-Santa Clarita, McKeon named the wilderness bill as one of his legislative goals and said he expected the package to receive Senate action early this session. The next step is House approval.

The community benefits from the preserved wilderness because the bill would create opportunities for recreational activities, like hiking and swimming, Erskine-Hellrigel said.

"It's absolutely wonderful and amazing, and the places (that would be protected by the bill) are exquisite," she said.

The bill garnered the support of many organizations focused on preserving the wilderness.

"Hundreds of organizations, community groups, businesses and elected officials have endorsed these bills," said Sam Goldman of the California Wild Heritage Campaign, a preservation coalition of more than 500 businesses and organizations.


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