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News & Features
From the Idyllwild Town Crier weekly newspaper, 01.15.09 edition.


Senate moves wilderness bill forward

By J.P. Crumrine, News Editor


Wilderness legislation is moving much faster in the 111th Congress, which began last week. On Friday, Jan. 9, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) introduced her bill to protect nearly 190,000 Southern California acres, many of which are in Riverside County. Also, last week, the U.S. Senate announced its intention to begin what it could not finish in the final weeks of the 110th Congress.

On Sunday, the new Senate Democratic majority was able to invoke cloture for the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) filibuster threats prevented enactment of the same bill in November.

The cloture rule is the only formal procedure the Senate has for breaking a filibuster, which is an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. Under cloture, the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours of debate.

With 58 Senate seats, the Democrats were able — with some Republican assistance — to obtain the three-fifths majority necessary to eliminate the filibuster and limit debate on the bill. The final vote was 66 for cloture and 12 opposed. Twenty senators did not vote.

Its passage is now expected in the Senate, perhaps this week, according to Jennifer May, Bono Mack’s communication director. A similar bill passed the House in September and Coburn, single-handedly, contained the bill to the Senate sidelines after the November election.

House passage is expected once the Senate finishes its work.

Title 1, subsection L, incorporates Bono Mack’s 2008 Riverside Wilderness bill. The bill creates four new wilderness areas, adds 31 miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River system, and expands the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Within the San Bernardino National Forest, the South Fork of the San Jacinto River and Cahuilla Mountain are two local areas that would be added to the wilderness system. Together, about 29,000 acres will be designated wilderness. This is in addition to the existing San Jacinto and Santa Rosa wilderness areas that total nearly 80,000 acres.

Portions of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River would be designated as Wild and Scenic, as well as Bautista Creek and Fuller Mill Creek.

“I applaud the Senate for moving quickly on this important legislation that will preserve some of our most spectacular and scenic lands for future generations,” said Bono Mack. “These exquisite, wild lands are an integral part of our heritage, and I am pleased that we are so close to seeing them protected for years to come. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in both the House and Senate on this very important effort.”

Prior to the Senate vote, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, implored his colleagues to vote for the cloture motion.

“Some have questioned the wisdom of protecting federal lands at a time when the nation is seeking to expand domestic conventional and alternative energy production. First of all, it’s important to note that according to the Bureau of Land Management, almost none of the wilderness areas that would be created by this bill are believed to contain significant energy development potential,” Bingaman said. “Consideration of these bills has been long delayed, and I strongly support moving forward with this package expeditiously, beginning this afternoon with a vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill.”       

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at jp@towncrier.com.

    



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