Recent Senate passage of legislation calling for Wilderness Area designation for 438,530 acres of Eastern Sierra land has been the hot topic of discussion on the local scene. The measure recently passed the Senate by a 73 to 21 vote. The next step is hearing by the House of Represenatives.
In reviewing the legislation and its possible impact on the fishing and hunting scene, it appears it would be business as usual—no restrictions. However new regulations are proposed relating to vehicle use within the areas which will require a little more leg work, especially for the deer hunting clan.
Maps related to the legislation indicate there will be vehicle access on the majority of existing primary non-maintained roads contained within the proposed new boundaries. The majority of these locations remain open to travel. There is a 75-foot setback on each side of the road allowing for turnouts and parking.
Use of vehicles, OHVs, four-wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles and bicycles would be prohibited off the designated roadways. And this includes the popular wheel-equipped deer carrier.
Allowable activities within the wilderness areas include fishing, hunting, camping, horseback riding and backpacking.
Prohibited would be commercial development, mining, logging and the use of any mechanized or wheel equipped vehicle including mountain bikes.
In a short review of the legislations language my assessment is travel into Wilderness Areas will be permitted on designated routes. However, any cross-country travel off the designated route will be restricted to foot or horseback travel.
The largest addition on the wilderness designation scene is the proposed White Mountain Wilderness Area, north and east of Bishop—230,000-acres. Additional acreage is added to the existing John Muir, Ansel Adams, Hoover Wilderness Areas with a proposed new designation for the Owens River headwaters between Mammoth and June Lake.
Local reaction has ranged from “favorable” to “wait and see” to outright “opposition.”
“I am pleased, passage of the bill will insure and preserve our pristine wild lands for future generations” said third generation Mono County rancher and trout farmer Tim Alpers. “Protection of watersheds is critical for the survival and health of our thriving fisheries and the bill provides that protection. Quality recreational opportunities will continue to be available for the thousands of visitors frequenting our area. It’s a major step in recognizing wilderness as a major part of our American heritage.”
Dick Noles is a 43-year Bishop resident who has been spearheading habitat improvement projects in remote locations included in the legislation.
“Our projects for improving habitat will be history,” said Noles. “You can check with the biologist, and they’ll tell you our remote watering systems for deer and big horn sheep are a positive benefit for improving habitat. Once they’re included in a wilderness area, they’re finished; it will be a question of survival. The bill doesn’t follow the intent of original wilderness designation, and I’m definitely opposed.”
One concern expressed by those favoring the legislation is possible future modifications which would erode the intent of the bill. One concern is of possible annexation of locations into the much more restrictive National Park system.
"I’m not opposed to the wilderness philosophy” said Independence sportsman Bruce Ivey who has lived in Independence for 57 years. “Because of increasing pressure and demands we have to save what we have and do it now, but we have to make sure down the road changes aren’t made to meet special interests, we have to be diligent.”
The House of Representatives have set no hearing date for consideration. The legislation was sponsored by 25th District Congressman Buck Mc Keon and Senator Barbara Boxer. For more information contact the office of Congressman McKeon in Santa Clarita (661) 254-2111. To view maps of the proposal visit http://mckeon.house.gov/eastern-sierra-maps.aspx