When the 112th Congress went into session this week, two Southern California Republicans quickly introduced bills that would give 40,000 acres of land the highest protection by law possible. Congressman Darrell Issa reintroduced his Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Act to protect close to 22,000 acres of wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in northern San Diego County. In Los Angeles County, Congressman David Dreier introduced the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests Protection Act, which covers about 18,000 acres.
"The San Gabriel Mountains provide a third of L.A.'s drinking water and are an incredible resource for recreation and solitude for people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city," explained Sam Goldman of The Wilderness Society, which is still seeking legislation to protect an additional 18,000 acres and 44 miles along three rivers. "Protecting these mountains for future generations is a very smart thing to do and will be appreciated by people for generations to come."
Dreier's act would add 17,724 acres to two already-existing wilderness areas east of the San Gabriel Canyon Road (SR39): 6,202 acres to Cucamonga and 11,522 acres to Sheep Mountain. The bill also requires the Forest Service to reduce a maintenance backlog, specifically in regards to facilities damaged by the Station Fire, which charred 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest in 2009.
When a wilderness area is established by Congress, it protects the land from virtually all development--no new roads, facilities or power lines, for example--and a variety of uses, including driving off-road vehicles and mountain biking (you can, however, go hiking, fishing and camping). The basic two land altering options that are allowed are trails, built and maintained without motorized and mechanical equipment, and fire suppression efforts.
There are currently no specific threats to the lands in both proposals, but that's not what wilderness legislation is always about. Goldman says his organization looks for areas still largely untouched by human impact and remain pristine with the goal of keeping them that way.
Issa's proposal is a second try to protect nearly 22,000 acres of land in the Cleveland National Forest and in an area controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It failed, not because of opposition, but due to timing during the last session of congress. "Most of this stuff is bipartisan," said Goldman.
Later this year, Senator Dianne Feinstein may reintroduce a massive desert bill, which could propose 300,000 acres of wilderness, over a million acres for two new national monuments and space for off-road vehicles.
Detail of map showing proposed wilderness additions in the San Gabriel Mountains. Click here (1.7mb) to download the full PDF map. Map via David Dreier's office.
Issa's proposal to add wilderness in San Diego County. View a larger version of the map here. Map via Darrell Issa's office.
For the record: an earlier version of this article stated that Senator Barbara Boxer may reintroduce a desert-related bill. In fact, it was Senator Dianne Feinstein.