The Inyo County Supervisors held a special meeting in Independence Tuesday afternoon to hear public comments regarding the pending Boxer/McKeon Wilderness Bills.
Unlike a recent meeting in Mono County where supporters of the bills paraded across the podium, the meeting in Independence produced the opposite result. Over 100 people showed up for the meeting and the opposition far outweighed support.
Congressman Buck McKeon’s Chief of staff Bob Haueter was present, and provided the group with a brief history of what has brought the bills to this point. He denied local allegations of “back room dealings,” and assured the room that this is “not a done deal.”
Haueter explained some of the changes that have been made since the Lee Vining meeting a couple weeks ago, such as the removal of a Wilderness addition near Mammoth, the protection of telecommunication access and seismic monitoring sites, and other boundary adjustments.
Haueter also took the opportunity to dispel some rumors that have been circulating about the bills. He said that current and future water rights won’t be usurped by the legislation, that no legal road will be closed, and that no private property will be taken.
Haueter tried to rally the room behind the “compromise” proposal, and summed up his remarks with a political reality check for the room, warning them that if these bills do not pass this year, an even larger Wilderness Bill might “steamroll” Inyo County in the years to come.
But Haueter’s conciliatory tenor was quickly overwhelmed by a rush of opposition from Inyo residents.
Speakers regularly denounced the so-called “compromise” that went into the bills. One speaker described the process as a situation where someone “steals $1000 from you, then gives you $500 back and calls it a compromise.”
Others expressed concern with the adjustments that Haueter said were underway, saying that what Washington promises is not necessarily what will be delivered.
The most frequent criticism of the bills was that some of the proposed Wilderness does not actually deserve the designation. Speakers suggested that by designating undeserving lands as Wilderness, it “cheapens” the standard.
Many claimed that the bills were little more than “ego-driven politics,” blaming Barbara Boxer for trying to balance her “legacy” of land preservation on the backs of Inyo County residents.
Apart from the majority of opposition, there were some who spoke in favor of the bills. Some explained why they believe the bills are in fact a compromise, others explained why they believe the wild places of Inyo and Mono County need protection, and one supporter delivered a stack of letters from Southern California families who spend vacation dollars in the Eastern Sierra, and who supported the bills.
The last word went to the Inyo Supervisors, with Richard Cervantes leaving little room for interpretation when he stated, “We need more wilderness like we need a hole in the head.” He explained that there are valuable mineral resources within Inyo County’s mountains, and that it is “not in the best interests of the country to lock them up.”
Supervisor Beverly Brown echoed one of the comments from the community, stating that the bills are “not in the spirit of the Wilderness Act.”
Other Inyo Supervisors did not speak, perhaps reserving their comments for Wednesday night’s meeting in Bishop.