January 13, 2004

Public land-use issues discussed at meeting

By CHUCK MUELLER, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

VICTORVILLE - Acknowledging that federal and local interests are often at odds over use of public lands, the Bureau of Land Management's top administrator called Tuesday for working in harmony toward mutual goals.

"California is intense and complex, with new demands and impacts," said bureau director Kathleen Clarke. "Government is best when it's open, and the best ideas frequently come from business leaders.

"These lands belong to all the people and we need to manage them so we can enhance our lives," she told a group of civic leaders here. "I think we can work in harmony toward a common ground."

Clarke stopped here on the second day of a High Desert tour of public lands with Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

The congressman focused on a number of issues involving public lands, including the Endangered Species Act and the proposed California Wild Heritage Act.

"Many of us in Congress would like to see changes in the Endangered Species Act, but I don't think we have the necessary votes," McKeon said.

He said he sees little likelihood of passage of the Wild Heritage Act, reintroduced last year by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to conserve up to 9 million acres of wild lands in the state.

"If people can come together with something smaller, I would help work with them. But (this) acreage on top of what we already have set aside is too much."

Meanwhile, Clarke envisions some changes in the Endangered Species Act that "would ease the process."

She added, "We support the act, but are looking at ways it is applied."

Attention then shifted to the controversial West Mojave Plan, the nation's largest habitat conservation proposal. Now in in its final stages, the plan is designed to protect endangered species like the desert tortoise while streamlining procedures to develop land in the vast western Mojave Desert.

Twenty-eight entities including federal, state and county governments, and various cities and special interest groups have worked jointly for a decade to find ways to protect sensitive species from urban encroachment while allowing other uses, such as mining and off-road vehicle activities, to continue.