May 14, 2008

Bill to protect county mountains, rivers passes House committee

California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act

Keith Matheny
The Desert Sun

A bill to protect additional Riverside County forests, mountains and rivers was passed by the U.S. House's Natural Resources Committee today, paving the way for a floor vote in the full House.

Sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, the bill would permanently protect four new wilderness areas, expand six existing protected areas, and add additional protected land to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. It would include 190,000 acres of wilderness in areas including Joshua Tree National Park.

The protected lands in the bill would help preserve the habitat of the threatened Peninsular bighorn sheep, desert tortoise and mountain yellow-legged frog, as well as many other species including mule deer, mountain quail and bald eagles.

"These lands make up a valuable part of our heritage, and I am pleased that we are now one step closer to ensuring that they are preserved for future generations," Bono Mack said in a statement.

It would also designate the North Fork of the San Jacinto River, Fuller Mill Creek, Bautista Creek and Palm Canyon Creek as potected Wild and Scenic Rivers.

"These four rivers are natural treasures hiding in plain sight," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, a national organization dedicated to river protection.

"As more and more people move to Riverside County, we can't afford to let these vital links to our past be swallowed up by our future."

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by California Democratic U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. It has broad local support, including from Riverside County supervisors, municipalities, chambers of commerce and others. The Coachella Valley Association of Governments and 11 municipalities have formally endorsed the legislation.

"It's terrific to see a bill that truly balances the diverse needs of our community, protecting our region's open space, preserving our high quality of life while maintaining and enhancing our economy -- the California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act succeeds on all counts," Palm Desert Councilman Jim Ferguson said in a statement.

Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Ginny Foat praised the legislation for its "positive impact on our community's recreation opportunities, quality of life and local economy."