700,000 acres of new wilderness designated in California
Years of volunteer work in organizing and mapping potential new wilderness areas by club members and others paid off this spring as Congress passed the largest expansion of national wilderness in 15 years. The new wilderness designation will safeguard two million acres nationwide including about 700,000 acres in California.
The area surrounding this backpacker is now part of the John Muir Wilderness. Ventana staff photo
Included in the omnibus lands bill are over 400,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra, additions to Joshua Tree National Park, protection of 85,000 acres in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks (including the Mineral King Valley area), the flower-studded San Joaquin Ridge near Mammoth, over 223,500 acres in the White Mountains (home to Bristlecone Pines), and establishment of a wilderness around Mount Hood in Oregon.
The package also includes five important ocean protections: NOAA Undersea Research Program Act, The Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, The Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act, The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, and The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.
The bill will also protect more than one million acres in Wyoming from oil and gas development and designates more than 1000 miles of wild and scenic rivers.
Included in the legislation was a landmark settlement of an 18-year lawsuit the Sierra Club has supported, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, to restore the San Joaquin River. The law authorizes the federal government to spend $88 million to restore the river which once supported huge spring Chinook salmon runs. Water flows will be restored to now dry parts of the river, and water management projects will help farmers offset irrigation losses. Additional funding brings the total restoration funds to $400 million.
With passage of this bill, California now has 14 million acres of wilderness. Wilderness lands are protected from logging, new mining, and energy development. One provision, strongly opposed by the Sierra Club, will allow building a road through wilderness in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.