Lawmakers sow Yosemite seeds, but harvest so far unclear

McClatchy Washington BureauDecember 13, 2013 

— Congress will revisit unfinished business with Yosemite National Park next year.

One pending bill would expand Yosemite’s boundaries. Another would rename a local mountain peak. A third would speed salvage logging in the park’s vicinity. Some bills may have promise, but none yet shows unstoppable momentum.

“I think there’s a possibility that these measures could become part of a larger package,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said Friday. “There’s a deal there to work out.”

Certainly, long odds confound any legislation in today’s divided Congress.

Through Nov. 30, House members introduced 4,222 bills and resolutions since the 113th Congress began on Jan. 3. In the Senate, 2,144 bills and resolutions were introduced. So far, only 55 bills have become law; some in packages that included multiple bills.

The 113th Congress resumes in January during an election year that further complicates legislating. Some measures may be teed up for quick action, such as a long-stalled farm bill. Other measures may be consigned to debate fodder, such as the Senate’s 1,198-page immigration bill passed in June.

The Yosemite-related bills, while relatively modest, face multiple obstacles.

One measure, introduced in September by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., is called the Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act. The legislation, a response to the devastating Yosemite-area fire of last summer, would exempt salvage logging on the nearby Stanislaus National Forest from the usual environmental studies, public review or judicial oversight.

Citing what he called the “gravest reservations,” McClintock removed from his original bill a provision that would affect timber found within Yosemite’s boundaries.

“If any good can come of this tragedy, it would be the timely salvage of fire-killed timber that could provide employment to local mills and desperately needed economic activity to mountain communities,” McClintock said when he introduced the bill.

Getting the measure to President Barack Obama’s desk, though, will test all of the legislative skills McClintock has learned during his several decades of holding public office. It narrowly passed the House Natural Resources Committee, by a 16-15 vote. The Republican-controlled House is likely to be sympathetic, but the Democratic-controlled Senate will have to be persuaded.

“It’s not clear, based on our discussions with the Forest Service and others, that there is any need for this bill,” said Zachary Coile, spokesman for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Mariposa County Supervisor Kevin Cann, a former Yosemite park official, said Friday that he “can’t see Congress passing the McClintock logging bill, which throws most regulation out the window, especially when the Forest Service seems to have the tools to eventually meet most of the need.”

McClintock’s district includes Yosemite. His office did not respond to multiple queries Friday. Costa, though, said “we’re in negotiations” over possible timber salvage compromises and stressed that “staffs are meeting and talking.”

A lower-profile bill introduced by McClintock last March would rename Mammoth Peak, a 12,117-foot summit within Yosemite’s boundaries, as Mount Jessie Benton Fremont. Fremont, a writer and political activist, came from a prominent Missouri family and was married to Sen. John C. Fremont, a 19th century explorer. She was an early proponent of establishing a Yosemite park.

So far, no other House member has co-sponsored McClintock’s peak re-naming bill. Finding co-sponsors, moreover, is not even half the battle.

Sixteen House members – all Democrats – have co-sponsored Costa’s bill to expand Yosemite’s boundaries by 1,575 acres in Mariposa County. Some of the property is owned by the non-profit Pacific Forest Trust and some is owned by a partnership of doctors who originally planned to build a subdivision. A Senate version of the park expansion bill has been introduced by Boxer and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“We have continued to build support and momentum, and state Republicans are strongly supporting the bill,” Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, said Friday, adding that “getting the introduction in both chambers this year was major progress.”

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the bill in July, something that House Republicans haven’t yet convened.

Some Yosemite-related ideas simply drop from sight.

In 2012, for instance, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., authored legislation to add 18 acres in Mariposa County near the intersections of Highways 49 and 140 for the purposes of a Yosemite visitors center. The bill received a hearing and attracted three co-sponsors, but then went nowhere and has not been reintroduced.

The bill that’s technically the farthest along, authored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would order the National Park Service to study ways to honor the Buffalo Soldiers troop of African American troopers who helped patrol Yosemite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The House passed the bill in June, though that’s no guarantee of final approval. A similar bill passed the House in both 2010 and 2012, but then stalled.

Email: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

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