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Edited by: John Stewart

California Wild Heritage Wilderness and The Wildlands Project

July 22, 2002

by: John Stewart

The recently introduced wilderness legislation bears the title “California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act”. Coincidence or part of a grand plan? You see, “Heritage” is a word used to describe areas being pulled into the Wildlands Project and areas considered “key habitat” and in need of protection to satisfy United Nations agreements to protect “heritage” areas; areas of culture or environmental significance.

So, what happens when “heritage” areas are designated? The short answer is the land area becomes wilderness with full protection as wilderness without respect to existing or historic uses or activities. In other words, roads (or trails), paved, gravel, or dirt, cease to be recognized as “roads”. Okay, it has happened before. Why is this “different”?

You see, a United Nations “Heritage Area” carries a special burden. Not only is the land WITHIN the boundary subject to protection as wilderness, a buffer zone AROUND the area is afforded that same status BY DEFAULT. What you see as a line on a map defining a “California Wild Heritage Wilderness Area” becomes the core habitat area. What happens next is an unspecified amount of land adjacent to the “heritage area” is identified buffer zone and becomes “wilderness” with the full level of protection afforded the core area defined on the map.

Within the wilderness proposal is an area called Grouse Lakes in the Tahoe National Forest. Within the current proposed bill, the area is listed as number 58 of 73 proposed wilderness areas. The area in question is 17,280 acres. Maps provided by Senator Boxer’s office indicate a close proximity of the proposed Grouse Lakes Wilderness Boundary to the Fordyce Creek Trail which is the premier trail used by California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs for their annual Sierra Trek.

Details of the boundary are not clear as the map provided is either a 1:126,720 or 1:100,000 scale that has been modified through shrinkage to fit on smaller paper. Using a magnifying glass and some assumptions, it appears as if the proposed boundary averages 0.25-1.25 miles from the Fordyce Creek Trail beginning just past the first stream crossing to Meadow Lake.

Suppose that the Grouse Lakes Wilderness moved from “proposed wilderness” to “official wilderness”. Under the auspices of the UN mandate to protect the core wilderness area, a buffer zone now becomes a reality. Is a quarter of a mile a sufficient “buffer zone” to “protect” the wilderness qualities of the Grouse Lakes area? At what point will vehicle noise and dust pollution be acceptable?

The California Wilderness Coalition (CWC) has their answer reported in their report: MISSING LINKAGES: RESTORING CONNECTIVITY TO THE CALIFORNIA LANDSCAPE. In this document, the area around Fordyce Creek and Meadow Lake is high priority corridor linkage area between core habitat areas west of Donner Lake and the mountains of Northern California.

CWC is the primary environmental group drafted the California Heritage Wilderness Act. Language within the Act echoes language within the Missing Linkages Report. Grouse Lake as wilderness closes Fordyce Creek Trail and brings an end to Sierra Trek.

In other areas of the state of California, the Missing Linkages Report is being used to affect area closures. For over 60 years, California hunters have been building and maintaining artificial water sources in the the Southern California Desert. These projects have been mitigation to provide a source of water for wildlife to replace the desert springs that became unreliable as water was siphoned off for urban and agriculture uses to support the growing population of Southern California.

The National Park Service recently released their General Management Plan for the Mojave National Preserve. A key element of that plan calls for wild burro removal from the preserve as they are a non-native species. Of interest is that no actions are warranted to remove another non-native species from the preserve until genetics of the population can be studied. The non-native species involved is the Mule Deer.

Coincidentally, the preserve and surrounding BLM lands are designated as prime corridors to connect the southern California coastal ranges with the Colorado River ranges for the reintroduction proposed under the South Coast Wildlands Project of mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats to their historic ranges.

Again, we are back to the CWC and the Missing Linkages Report. Remember, the Missing Linkages Report is the core document for the California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act.

Once again, connecting corridors are involved in land and wildlife management decisions. Burros and artificial waters sources are being removed from the Mojave Preserve and surrounding BLM lands. The burros are direct competition with mule deer and big horn sheep for limited water and forage. The mule deer are a primary food source for the mountain lion. It is estimated that it takes one deer a week to feed a mountain lion. Lions are noted for killing more than they will eat.

An emerging issue with respect to the debate about wilderness and the Wildlands project is water rights. To date, the subject of water has not received much attention other than wilderness is needed to ensure watershed protection for a "safe" drinking water source.

The pending San Diego-Imperial County water transfer proposal is being debated. Under terms of the water transfer from the agriculture of Imperial County to the urban needs of San Diego, fields well be left fallow, eliminating the need for water to grow crops. This proposal is also designed to “protect” the Salton Sea.

Again, we are back to the CWC and the Missing Linkages Report. Once again, connecting corridors are involved in land and wildlife management decisions. By fallowing the agriculture fields, natural vegetation will begin to grow. The fallow fields now serve as the wildlife corridors that will connect the coastal mountains and the Colorado River mountains with high priority wildlife corridors as defined in the Missing Linkages Report.

Coincidental, these corridors extend through the southern sections of the Glamis Dunes, also know as the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. Under the South Coast Wildlands Project, these wildlife corridors will become defacto wilderness areas which exclude motorized recreation.

Still skeptical about the Wildlands Project? The Missing Linkages Report states that urbanization and roads are the primary factors that obstruct the necessary corridors. These corridors include interstate highways as well as state highways. The Donner Lake to Grouse Lakes corridor crosses Interstate 80. The Mojave area corridor crosses Interstate 15 and the Imperial County area corridor includes Interstate 8. The California Transportation Department participated in developing the Missing Linkages Report. They have approved plans to remove interstate exits and replace them with wildlife crossing points.

But, it will cost millions; even billions. Yes, your gas tax revenue and your Green Sticker Funds are helping to pay the bill.

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