By Mike Gervais, Inyo Register 12/18/08
Forty people from Bishop to Keeler, and even Southern
California and Utah, signed up Tuesday evening to weigh in
on five new wilderness designations proposed for Southern
Of the three dozen speakers, no one came forward at the
extended Board of Supervisors session in Lone Pine to voice
their support for the wilderness proposals.
Those in opposition of the proposals turned out in droves to
tell the Board of Supervisors why they feel the proposed
designations are wrong for Inyo County.
First District Supervisor and Board Chair Linda Arcularius
opened the meeting by reminding those in attendance that the
discussion was in reference to a proposal from the
California Wilderness Coalition to Senator Dianne Feinstein
to add five new wilderness designations to areas of Southern
Inyo County. In all, the new proposals aim to pin a
wilderness designation on 700,000 acres of land.
“Senator Feinstein has not agreed to carry this
legislation,” Arcularius said, adding that the community has
an opportunity to share their opinions with the senator
before she makes a decision on the proposal.
Inyo County residents nearly filled Statham Hall Tuesday
for another public hearing about proposed wilderness
designations. Photo by Mike Gervais
“I am against any additional wilderness in Inyo County,”
said Keeler resident Sam Wasson, “there’s enough of that
already, in fact, we’re overloaded.”
That sentiment was echoed by virtually every speaker at the
meeting to one degree or another.
Greg Weirick, of the Advocates for Access to Public Lands (AAPL),
said that 28 percent of California’s wilderness is located
in Inyo County, creating approximately four million acres of
Weirick also said that the 700,000 acres that are now being
considered for wilderness were “deemed inappropriate” for a
similar designation during discussions about the 1994 Desert
Representatives from AAPL submitted nine letters to the
board expressing opposition to the proposals from residents
who could not make the Tuesday evening meeting.
“What makes it wilderness now, if it wasn’t in 1994?” one
Another speaker said that the areas being considered are
still inappropriate for wilderness designations because they
are not “pristine and unspoiled” by human activities. “There
are roads spider-webbed all over there,” he said.
But the roads cutting through the areas proposed for
wilderness designations are only a small part of the human
footprint left on the land.
Most speakers at the hearing expressed concerns about the
struggling mining industry, and how the wilderness
proposals, if passed into law, could drive the industry out
of the county completely.
“Wilderness feeds men’s souls, but industry feeds their
children,” said Mike Patterson, owner of Cerro Cordo mines,
before he went on record opposing the proposed wilderness
designations because it could potentially put him, and many
others throughout the county, out of business.
“This seems to be directly aimed at mining,” said Paul
Skinner of Lone Pine. “Our country has been regulated and
permitted out of business. One tenth of one percent of the
surface of the nation is affected by mining. I am not
against wilderness, I’m against foolishness in wilderness.”
“We have over 300 minerals here that can’t be found anywhere
else in the world,” said self-proclaimed rock hound and Lone
Pine resident Francis Graham, adding that, aside from the
mining potential, there are more than 130 rockhound clubs in
California, “and they all come here” to practice their
“Every time they stop us from mining they put this country
at risk,” said Lone Pine resident and Vietnam veteran Bruce
Cotton. “I didn’t go fight for this country so they could
keep taking and keep taking and keep taking.”
Cotton said that for 100 years public lands have been under
the stewardship of Inyo County’s mining and ranching
communities. “We take care of this land, we have for
generations and generations. I’ve got it from a reliable
source that all they want is to stop mining. I’m very
adamantly against it.”
“I find it really hard to believe this coalition could offer
mining as a reason for this wilderness,” said Paul Allen
Matthews. “The only way we can fight this is to fight it. If
we don’t send letters to Feinstein she’s not going to hear
the other side.”
To the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, Matthews expressed
appreciation for hosting the open forum and allowing
residents to participate in the discussion. “Fight the good
fight, we’re behind you,” he said.
Dick Noles, executive director of AAPL, offered a new
solution to the problems perceived by residents regarding
the new wilderness proposals.
Noles recommended that the board and Inyo County residents
write Congressman Buck McKeon, requesting that he back out
of the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage
According to Noles, McKeon and his partner on the bill,
Senator Barbara Boxer, promised that, with the passage of
the Wild Heritage Act, the federal government would not seek
any more wilderness in Inyo County.
“The ink isn’t even dry on that, and they are back here
again,” Noles said. “It’s very frustrating and it’s a battle
we keep losing.”
Many residents who spoke Tuesday evening noted that there
were no representatives from the California Wilderness
Coalition or Feinstein’s office present at the meeting.
The last speaker, Sherry Casgrow of Keeler, said that there
was a representative from the Wilderness Coalition in
attendance, but that individual left the meeting without
Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes said he was
disappointed that no one from the coalition spoke at the
meeting, but said, overall, “it was a great turnout.”
The Board of Supervisors was not scheduled to take action on
the proposed wilderness designations, and plans continue the
discussion with residents, the California Wilderness
Coalition and Feinstein.
“There will potentially be many more meetings on this
issue,” Supervisor Arcularius said.