Naturalist John Muir, considered the father of the National Park Service, wrote in “The Yosemite”: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
June 30 was the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. It stipulated for the first time in American history that an area of land “be held for the public use, resort and recreation, and shall be inalienable for all time.”
Muir’s vision for Yosemite included 1,575 acres in the Merced River watershed on the southwestern edge of the park, about 10 miles southwest of Yosemite Valley.
When Yosemite National Park was established in 1890, this area was among thousands of acres stripped from the park due to pressure from loggers and miners. Unlike other properties carved from the original proposal, this area has remained relatively free of environmental impacts from developers.
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Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, introduced legislation in the House that would approve the 1,575-acre expansion of Yosemite 15 months ago. It would also adjust the boundary of the park to accommodate the transfer. Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
The proposed expansion would connect Yosemite with the Sierra National Forest, providing trails and a migration corridor for deer. It would also protect a natural habitat for a variety of native animals and rare plants. In addition, the land has spectacular views of the Merced River watershed, San Joaquin Valley and Coast Ranges.
The land is made up of two parcels which are held by two separate entities. Both are willing to sell to the park. The Pacific Forest Trust, a forest conservation group, owns 793 of the acres. The remaining 782 acres belong to a group of private investors.
If approved by Congress, the funds for both parcels would come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which generates its revenue from offshore oil and gas leases. It would be the first expansion of Yosemite in over 70 years.
But if the legislation is not passed, the Pacific Forest Trust is uncertain about how much longer it can afford to hold onto the property.
Last year in a rare showing of bipartisanship, both chambers of the state Legislature voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting the expansion of Yosemite. The Mariposa Board of Supervisors also unanimously supported the expansion.
There’s seemingly only one obstacle to this acquisition.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, who represents the district in Congress, has yet to approve the expansion. He recently stated, “My position is one of conditional support – not unconditional opposition.”
Apparently McClintock remains concerned about restrictions on public access to the park after the Draft Merced River Plan for Yosemite National Park was released in January 2013. In March, the “selected action” of the Final Merced River Plan made several changes that addressed most, if not all, of the objections McClintock raised at a congressional hearing last July.
His excuses for foot-dragging on these precious parcels are without merit and have more to do with dysfunctional politics in Washington than what is in the best interest of his district and constituents.
McClintock also stated recently that Muir’s promise must be redeemed. That is precisely why this extraordinary opportunity, unanimously supported last year in both chambers of the California Legislature and widely supported in Congress, must go forward now.
Following the Rim fire last August, and the Republican-led government shutdown last October which closed the park for 16 days, it would be fitting for Congress to deliver a late 150th birthday present to Yosemite National Park. It’s time for McClintock to say “aye.”