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Los Padres National Forest: Wilderness Bill Introduced, But Provisions Worry Some

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California condor #412 soars above the Los Padres National Forest | Photo by Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Creative Commons
California condor #412 soars above the Los Padres National Forest | Photo by Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Creative Commons

Another Republican is fighting for wilderness protection.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-24) introduced legislation on Wednesday to help preserve wilderness and rivers in Los Padres National Forest within Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The "Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act of 2012" would add 64,000 acres of federal wilderness and protect 89 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers to the southern Los Padres forest. The bill also establishes an 18,000-acre Condor Ridge Scenic Area.

"Passage of this legislation will ensure that future Californians can continue to experience these majestic landscapes -- complete with condors soaring overhead -- into the future," said Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Policy at The Wilderness Society in a press release. The Act would also open opportunities for hiking, wildlife watching, camping and swimming.

However, last year, two other Southern California Republican representatives introduced similar legislation: Congressman Darrell Issa reintroduced his Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Act; In Los Angeles County, Congressman David Dreier introduced the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests Protection Act.

Where are those proposals now?

The two bills had hearings in the House, but are now on hold, according to Annette Kondo, Communications Director for the Wilderness Society. There has been "no action from other Republican leaders," she wrote in an e-mail.

That may be the fate of Rep. Gallegly's act as well. The act is already receiving a combination of praise and backlash -- and not just from fellow Republicans.

According a statement from Santa Barbara-based Los Padres ForestWatch, the bill is generating local controversy because it would also open new areas of the forest to motorized off-road vehicles, and would kick-start a controversial exchange of land between the U.S. Forest Service and a local water district near Lake Piru..

"While these wilderness provisions are a good step towards permanently protecting some of the last remaining undeveloped wild places in our local backcountry, we have serious concerns about other unrelated provisions tacked onto this bill that would significantly degrade the Los Padres National Forest and outdoor recreation experiences for thousands of visitors to the forest each year," said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of ForestWatch.

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