December 27, 2009

McKeon, Lewis concerned about Feinstein's desert plan

By NATASHA LINDSTROM, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • Citing concerns over suppressing critical development, Rep. Jerry Lewis is questioning Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s newly revealed plan to control 2,500 square miles of Mojave Desert land.

The legislation would create two separate national monuments to help protect hiking trails, bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other animals and plants within various areas of the Mojave Desert, including Deep Creek and a 105-mile stretch of Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles.

“We are early in the legislative process and it will take time to assess the real impacts of this far-reaching lands bill,” Lewis, R-Redlands, said in a statement. “But I am extremely concerned that it locks up tens of thousands of acres that are not suitable for protection, and prevents other uses such as mining, energy development or military maneuvers that might better serve our national interests.”

Rep. Howard P. McKeon, R-Santa Clarita and Barstow's representative, said he is still reviewing the legislation to ensure his district’s land would not be negatively impacted, such as by the bill limiting training opportunities at the region’s three military bases.

“(McKeon) also wants to ensure that private property is protected, and he wants to make sure that Johnson Valley — the largest recreational off-road vehicle area — is not impacted,” said Lindsey Mask, spokeswoman for McKeon.

However, Lewis said he’s heard from several desert cities and groups in support of the legislation. He said he will keep a watchful eye over how the management of the vast new monuments will be funded, acknowledging the bill’s scope could change dramatically as it makes its way through the Senate and House of Representatives.

Under Feinstein’s plan, the larger preserve, Mojave Trails, would be a 941,000-acre parcel along a 105-mile stretch of old Route 66 ending on the California-Nevada border. The legislation would protect another 134,000 acres about 100 miles east of Los Angeles and make permanent five existing off-highway vehicle areas in inland Southern California.

The bill would allow construction of solar and wind farms on “suitable” desert land outside the protected area.