Monday, May 09, 2011

Bill to protect desert backed by once-fierce foes

In 1994, a rookie lawmaker named Dianne Feinstein pushed through the largest national parks and wilderness bill ever - by a single vote on the last day before Republicans took control of Congress - protecting 8.5 million acres of the California desert against the wishes of many who lived there. Seventeen years later, many of those who warned that the California Desert Protection Act would sacrifice their way of life to an environmentalist utopia have changed sides, becoming allies in Feinstein's quest to create one of the biggest environmental legacies in California history: a new bill to protect 1.165 million more acres ringing the national parks at Death Valley and Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve. With Republicans again in control of the House, Feinstein's former foes now count on her to protect their off-road vehicle playgrounds and block efforts to build giant solar plants in the desert. "There has been a 180-degree turnabout in perception and attitude," said Gerald Freeman, owner of the Nipton Hotel near the Mojave Preserve. Freeman said tourism and a national park "prestige factor" has replaced the view that "environmentalists have stolen our land." Feinstein would give off-road vehicle users their first-ever congressionally protected playgrounds. She has convinced the Marine Corps to share the land it wants with off-roaders for 10 months of the year. Some of Feinstein's fiercest former local foes now revile the prospect of solar projects allowed on "multiple use" land...more

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