Designated Wilderness is a touchy subject in the Eastern Sierra. Some want no Wilderness period, others like the Wilderness areas that currently exist but dont want any new Wilderness, others still believe that there is more local land in need of this ultimate level of protection.
One bill that would place areas of the Sierra and the White Mountains under Wilderness, was pushed to the back burner as Congress took on the financial crisis. This Boxer-Mckeon bill may be resurrected and ultimately passed when the new Congress meets next year. In the meantime, a group called the California Wilderness Coalition has approached Senator Dianne Feinsteins office with proposals for new Wilderness in the Death Valley area.
The Senator has not yet taken a position for or against this latest proposal, but she did give the Inyo Supervisors the heads up that this group was interested in new wilderness areas for Inyo County.
The Inyo Supervisors held a public meeting in Lone Pine to discuss this new proposal. Neither representatives from Feinsteins office nor the California Wilderness Coalition showed up at the meeting, leaving the Supervisors to preach opposition to the proposal to the choir who did attend.
With local opposition to new wilderness well known, we called the California Wilderness Coalition to get the details on their proposal.
Everything is in the early stages, but Laurel Williams with the Coalition explained that the three areas in question are roughly 38,000 acres of the Malpais Mesa, in the Inyo Mountains above Keeler. 40,000 acres of the Slate Range, on the west side of the Panamint Valley, is being proposed, as is 8,000 acres of the Great Falls Basin Wilderness Study Area near Trona.
When asked why these areas needed protection, Williams listed illegal off road vehicle use as the threat to the Slate Range and the Great Falls Basin. Maps of the proposal have not been finished yet because there are legally open routes in these areas that may require the Wilderness to be built around the roads, (cherry stemmed,) Williams explained.
On the Conglomerate Mesa in the proposed Malpais Mesa Wilderness area the threat is a possible open pit mine and cyanide leach system, according to the Coalition. A company called Timberline Resources had applied for drill test permits in the area, but since pulled out and moved on to a more developed operation near Butte Montana. None the less, Williams explained that there could be other mine threats in the future.
The California Wilderness Coalition plans to continue to work on these proposals. In the meantime, Senator Feinstein has not taken a position on whether or not to try and push these new Wilderness areas through Congress.