FEDERAL LAWMAKERS TURN TO THE WILDERNESS ACT AND EMINENT DOMAIN TO ACQUIRE CALIFORNIA LANDS FOR WILDERNESS AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
The High Speed Rail and Sacramento Arena Project are not the only significant eminent domain takings happening in California. The Wilderness Act, which authorizes the Federal government to designate public lands as national forests and national parks, marked its 50th year in 2013. Federal lawmakers have proposed two pieces of legislation pursuant to the Wilderness Act seeking to take portions of California land for the purposes of wildlife and wilderness conservation. This Federal Government has not used the Wilderness Act as a basis for legislation since 2009.
Introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Costa, the Yosemite National Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013 (S. 781/H.R. 1677) proposes a boundary line adjustment that will expand Yosemite by 1,575 acres along its western border. The Federal government planned to use its eminent domain power pursuant to the Wilderness Act to acquire the property, but a California non-profit group, Pacific Forest Trust negotiated with a group of private landowners to sell the parcel to the National Park Service. According to the Pacific Forest Trust, conservation of this area will protect the headwaters of several tributaries to the Merced river and preserve the land as a migration corridor for deer and other indigenous wildlife. The proposed parcel has also experienced significant logging activity throughout the past century, removing nearly all of the old-growth Ponderosa and cedar from the area. Additionally, Yosemite’s western border has experienced significant development activity, including the Yosemite West development which features condominiums, vacation homes, and apartments. Proponents of the boundary expansion hope that acquisition of the proposed parcel will alleviate pressure from further development in the west.
Introduced by Rep. Huffman, the California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act of 2013 (H.R. 1411) proposes extending the boundaries of the California Coastal National Monument to include 1,255 acres of Mendocino County within the protected area near the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. The land is currently held by the Bureau of Land Management, and if the bill is passed the Bureau would be required to manage the land as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. Local industry will largely be unaffected by the bill, because the bill ensures “traditional economic activities,” such as the grazing of cattle, will be permitted to continue. The bill also provides that any land within the proposed addition that is not currently held by the Bureau will not be part of the acquisition. Any future attempt to acquire these excluded privately-held lands may only occur by donation or exchange with the landowner’s written consent.