Senators push land bills

WASHINGTON — The next California wilderness fights will stretch from the desert to the Delta, in a dicey new political environment.

Last week, the state’s two Democratic senators set the stage by introducing a myriad of wilderness-related bills. Their overall prospects are unclear, but their ambitions are undeniable.

In Tehama and Shasta counties, for instance, Sen. Barbara Boxer wants to designate a 17,869-acre Sacramento River National Recreation Area. East of the Salinas Valley, Boxer calls for upgrading the Pinnacles National Monument into a new national park.

In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants creation of a national heritage area to attract federal funding. And in the vast Mojave Desert, Feinstein wants to designate a 941,000-acre Mojave Trails National Monument.

Some proposals force stark choices.

Feinstein’s Mojave Trails bill, for instance, would effectively block major wind and solar energy projects planned in the proposed monument region. This could force environmentalists to choose between supporting alternative energy and protecting public lands.

One proposed desert project called for a solar panel farm covering eight square miles of public land.

“I think that we must be cautious when we oppose renewable energy projects on federal lands,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said last year.

Feinstein this week countered that the proposed wind and solar projects could be relocated, in order to protect what she describes as the “beauty of the massive valleys, pristine dry lakes and rugged mountains.”

Many Republicans voice skepticism about expanding the federal reach.

“It’s something I will look with a critical eye at,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater. “At a time of fiscal crisis, we should be looking at selling properties, not buying them.”