River Conditions

WhiteWater Voyages Media Articles

March 10, 2004
Fresno Bee

Guides lobby bill on river regions

Congress could claim 2.5 million acres of wilderness in pieces.

By by Michael Doyle

California wild-river enthusiasts are braving Capitol Hill to champion controversial wilderness legislation authored by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

As originally introduced in May 2002, the bill would designate 440 miles of California rivers -- including portions of the Kings River and Dinkey Creek in eastern Fresno County -- as wild and scenic and designate 2.5 million acres as wilderness.

Skeptics abound. Supervisors in rural counties such as Tulare, Calaveras and El Dorado have gone on record opposing Boxer's big bill, and GOP committee leaders are not big fans.

"For the whole bill, there's little chance of it ever being enacted," said Tracy Republican Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee. "A lot of what's in her bill would not qualify as wilderness. ... and the recreation folks in the area have concerns about it."

At the same time, Pombo said, parts of the overall Boxer wilderness legislation could likely navigate Congress on their own.

On Thursday, for instance, Boxer and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced they'd come to an agreement with St. Helena Democrat Mike Thompson on a measure to protect nearly 300,000 acres of wilderness along California's northern coast.

The agreement marks Feinstein's most emphatic embrace of the wilderness proposal since Boxer introduced her comprehensive bill 22 months ago.

The compromise north coast wilderness provision amounts to only 12% of Boxer's original statewide proposal. It reflects, though, the piecemeal approach that has started to prevail.

"Things have evolved a bit," said John Yost, a wild-river enthusiast from Angels Camp. "The strategy has changed a bit from the big bill that steps on a lot of toes."

California environmentalists are trying different lobbying routes, as well. Yost, for example, took one of Feinstein's California staffers and several Calaveras County supervisors on raft trips down the Mokelumne River.

Another is the face-to-face pitch, such as last week's effort in Washington that included river guides Yost, Michael Charlton of Humboldt County, Bob and Jane Ferguson of Tuolumne County and Emily Templin of the Fresno office of Friends of the River.

Breaking into two teams, the grass-roots lobbyists met with staff members in numerous congressional offices. With some Republicans, they hope not so much to win outright support as to soften opposition.

"Yes, there is resistance," said river guide William McGinnis, who leads rafters down the Kings River and others, "but there is also movement."

© 2004, Fresno Bee


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