Legislative Battle Builds Over Development in the Desert
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawmakers, miners, developers and environmentalists clashed Monday over legislation that would designate about 9.5 million acres of California land as wilderness areas and national parks.
″We need to draw clear lines that development can work around while saving some lands as parks and wildernesses,″ Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., sponsor of the measure, told a crowded hearing conducted by the Senate Energy and Resources subcommittee on public lands, national parks and forests.
Congress in 1976 enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act which established the California Desert Conservation Area. The Bureau of Land Management, in accordance with the law, developed a management plan for the California desert to balance the demands of environmentalists, hunters, miners, ranchers, energy developers, tourists and the military.
But, according to Cranston, the Bureau of Land Management has ″failed to protect important desert resources.″
Citing a report by the General Accounting Office, Cranston said the investigative arm of Congress found that the bureau ″has frequently allowed the needs of competing interests, such as recreation and commercial use, to take precedence over wildlife interests when conflicts have arisen.″
The bureau disputed that charge.
″I wish the folks at GAO would have had both their eyes and ears open when they did their report,″ said Cy Jamison, director of the bureau. ″GAO’s report presents only a partial picture of BLM’s wildlife activities in the California desert.″
Jamison also criticized the legislation which appears driven by the premise that public lands will be destroyed if they are not designated as wilderness or placed in national parks.
″That is wrong and that mindset would gut the multiple use philosophy mandated by Congress,″ Jamison said.
Robert A. Sanregret, a representative of the Western Mining Council, Inc., said the legislation ″would destroy thousands of private businesses and would, literally, make thousands of citizens homeless.″
Sanregret argued the measure would lock out millions of acres of public land for future use by mineral exploration and development.
Recreationists complained that the legislation would close off camping areas, hiking trails and rock collecting sites. Cranston had noted that the bureau proposes permitting a motorcycle race through a desert tortoise habitat during the Thanksgiving weekend next month.
The state has listed the desert tortoise as an endangered species.
The High Desert Cattlemans Association said the legislation ″will directly affect the livelihoods of the ranchers, the future of desert ranching and the local economy.″