OUR VIEW: Yosemite expansion a good idea

April 30, 2013 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein hit a bull's-eye when she said last week that Yosemite National Park's "popularity is also its greatest challenge."

Feinstein's comment accompanied bills that she and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, introduced to expand Yosemite's boundaries by nearly 1,600 acres on its western edge near El Portal.

If the bills become law, the addition would be the first to expand Yosemite's 761,000 acres in more than 70 years.

Backers of the legislation say the proposed expansion area was part of naturalist John Muir's original vision for the park. That might well be, but Congress should be far less concerned with Muir's 19th century opinions than with serving the public and protecting Yosemite today and in the future.

What's important here is that the owner of 900 acres, Pacific Forest Trust, has agreed to sell the parcel to the National Park Service. The trust acquired the land from a family that wanted the land protected. According to Laurie Wayburn, president of Pacific Forest Trust, the remainder of the parcel is owned by an investment group that is willing to sell.

Wayburn told The Associated Press that the trust will donate one-third of its parcel's value, which will be determined by a fair-market appraisal. This makes the deal a good one for taxpayers.

In addition, Costa said in a news release that his bill respects the rights of landowners whose property is within the proposed new park boundary.

Money to pay for the park service's acquisition would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is underpinned by federal offshore oil drilling fees.

Wayburn said the expansion area has "a magnificent view" of the Merced River and is a migration corridor for deer. Costa said that "preserving these lands will help maintain the integrity of the park for generations to come" and by protecting against encroaching development.

The big question is whether Costa's bill will make it through a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans. Park expansion is not a GOP priority; reducing the national debt is. Remember: A similar bill last year didn't receive a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, is a member of that committee, along with Costa. On his congressional website, McClintock said, "I have not taken a position on that bill and will not do so until I can see the property and understand its role in the park's mission and operations."

We urge McClintock to do his due diligence and, at the least, help get the bill a fair hearing in the House.

Any chance to enhance and protect Yosemite National Park should not be summarily rejected because of partisan squabbling.

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