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Boxer’s wilderness plan has some worried

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s plan to create another 2.5 million acres of federal wilderness areas in California is getting mixed reviews in Nevada County.

Boxer’s bill proposes to create the county’s first two wilderness areas on roughly 18,000 acres near Castle Peak, above Donner Summit north of Interstate 80; and another on 17,000 acres at Grouse Ridge, a popular non-motorized recreation area southeast of Bowman Lake. (The area is also known as Grouse Lakes.)

Don Rivenes, president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, likes Boxer’s bill, saying it will protect the Tahoe National Forest land for all time.



But Duane Strawser, president of Bicyclists of Nevada County, is opposed because the wilderness designation – which forbids mechanized equipment, including bicycles – would eliminate miles of biking trails.

Meanwhile, Les Nicholson, Nevada Irrigation District’s hydro manager, is concerned wilderness designation could hamper NID’s operations, including reaching high mountain reservoirs by helicopter for repairs or safety checks.




And Vivian Kee, TNF Nevada City district ranger, wrote a letter saying a user permit system would probably be necessary to reduce recreational use in Grouse Ridge, if it became wilderness.

“I think it’s a good bill. I think it’s balanced,” Rivenes said. “Currently, Nevada County has no wilderness. We think it protects it for all time, for the future.”

Strawser said mountain bikers would lose the Mount Lola trail if the Castle Peak wilderness was created. In Grouse Ridge, they’d lose the Beyers Lake trail, he said.

“I’ve been on the phone all day today (seeking) a face-to face meeting with (Sen. Dianne) Feinstein,” Strawser said Monday, explaining he hopes to get support from Boxer’s counterpart in the U.S. Senate.

NID uses a helicopter on Grouse Ridge to conduct snow surveys and inspect equipment at three of its reservoirs: French, Faucherie and Sawmill. The water agency also uses snowmobiles there.

Both would be prohibited, though helicopters can fly over wilderness areas as long as they stay at least 2,000 feet above the ground.

“I need to be unfettered in my work up there,” said Nicholson, who said the reservoirs are so remote he would need a helicopter to fly in construction materials to repair dams.

Nicholson is concerned about the potential effect of a wilderness designation on Shotgun Lake, which is inside the proposed Grouse Ridge boundary. It isn’t used now as an NID water supply but could be in the future, he said.

Kee sent a May 1 letter to the California Wilderness Coalition, a Davis-based group that’s helping write Boxer’s bill.

“We find the proposed boundaries totally unmanageable,” Kee wrote. Among other things, she wrote, boundaries are drawn along section lines, the one-mile-square units that form townships.

“Boundaries should follow recognizable geographic features (drainage, ridge, etc.),” Kee wrote. Section lines are “an extremely difficult boundary to mark, maintain, follow, and the public has great difficulty knowing if they are in or out of a wilderness.”

Tom Bohigian, Boxer’s deputy state director, said the boundaries were dictated by TNF’s land ownership, which is a “checkerboard” of one-square-mile sections of private and public land.

“We made … enormous efforts to draw boundaries based on geography,” he said.

When told Tuesday of Nicholson’s concerns, Bohigian said he’d call Nicholson because “we do not want to have any effect on those operations.”

Bohigian said there were regular meetings with mountain bikers as the bill was crafted and compromises were made, including alterations to Castle Peak and Grouse Ridge to save trails.

“Is it something that everybody’s going to stand up and salute? Of course not. This is America,” Bohigian said.

Boxer unveiled the bill Saturday at a ceremony at the Presidio in San Francisco. She plans to formally introduce the bill possibly this week, Bohigian said.

He didn’t want to give odds on the bill’s chances, but a spokesman for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Fresno, was quoted as saying the bill will be “dead on arrival” at the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, which Radanovich chairs.


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