More than a century ago John Muir argued that Congress should include a wildlife corridor with stunning vistas of the Merced River in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. He lost to timber interests.
Now with the old-growth Ponderosa pine and cedar long gone, a California nonprofit is trying to make good on the famed environmentalist's vision. Pacific Forest Trust has agreed with a group of private landowners to sell the 1,600-acre parcel to the National Park Service.
"It has a magnificent view of the Wild and Scenic Merced River, and it's also a migration corridor for deer," said Laurie Wayburn, president of the forest trust group. "This was always meant to be a part of the park."
The federal government would use money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which collects fees from offshore oil drilling fees to acquire sensitive land and easements.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) introduced bills on Tuesday that would add 1,600 acres to the park's western border -- fulfilling the vision of naturalist John Muir.
The proposed addition is on the park's western boundary, near the junction that takes visitors to Glacier Point.
"Yosemite is truly a national treasure," said Feinstein. "But Yosemite's popularity is also its greatest challenge. New development in Yosemite West would increase the threat of fire, habitat fragmentation and degradation of creeks that flow into the park."
"Yosemite is a national treasure and preserving these lands will help maintain the integrity of the park for generations to come," said Rep. Costa. "As we approach Yosemite's 150th anniversary, there is no more fitting tribute than recommitting ourselves to protecting the park and restoring it to John Muir's original vision."
Besides logging, the land that would be included in the expansion has had pressure from development. It surrounds the Yosemite West subdivision that would not be included in the sale.
Park officials declined to comment on the expansion proposal, citing regulations that keep them from commenting on pending legislation.
But last week the California State Senate approved a resolution urging the expansion. It also has support from the Board of Supervisors in Mariposa County, where the land is remotely located and delivering services such as police and fire protection is expensive.
The Pacific Forest Trust bought 900 acres eight years ago from the second owners after the Yosemite Timber Co., which cut its last trees from the property roughly 140 years ago. The family wanted the land protected. The owners of the rest of the property are a consortium of doctors who purchased it as an investment years ago but are willing to sell now.
The trust worked for eight years to thin heavy stands of white fir that are susceptible to fire and to restore meadows whose water they sucked dry. Wayburn said the trust will donate one-third of the value of the land, which will be established through a fair market appraisal.
Tracie Cone with The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Feinstein Introduces Bill to Expand Yosemite's Western Boundary
Washington -- U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Yosemite National Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013, a bill to modify the park's boundary to protect vital areas from potential development. Senator Barbara Boxer joined the bill as an original cosponsor, and the bill was also introduced today in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jim Costa.
The legislation expands Yosemite National Park by approximately 1,600 acres, incorporating lands first proposed for inclusion in the park by conservationist John Muir. This boundary adjustment will allow the National Park Service to acquire these lands from willing sellers, thereby protecting natural resources along Yosemite's western boundary and ensuring these pristine lands are preserved in perpetuity.
"Yosemite is truly a national treasure," Senator Feinstein said. "It was first protected by President Lincoln in 1864, the first federal land set aside specifically for conservation purposes. Protection was enhanced by Congress in 1890, establishing Yosemite as one of our first national parks and paving the way for the creation of the National Park Service.
"But Yosemite's popularity is also its greatest challenge. New development in Yosemite West would increase the threat of fire, habitat fragmentation and degradation of creeks that flow into the park. Conservation efforts led by the Pacific Forest Trust have protected 800 acres west of the park, but the park's boundary must be adjusted to allow the National Park Service to acquire these adjacent lands.
"It's important to note that ownership of private inholdings within the proposed boundary line adjustment area will not be affected in any way, and would only become part of Yosemite National Park upon voluntary sale, donation or exchange by the landowners."
The Yosemite National Park Boundary Expansion Act expands Yosemite's boundary to accommodate the donation or sale of these acres so they will be permanently protected within the park.
In addition to protecting the right of private landowners whose land falls within the new boundary line, the bill also does not commit the federal government to purchase private inholdings, but would allow such acquisitions if Congress appropriates funds for that purpose in the future.
"I am so pleased to support this important legislation that further preserves Yosemite National Park for future generations," Senator Boxer said. "This plan would add approximately 1,600 acres of forest while protecting important waterways and natural habitats that make Yosemite such a pristine treasure for Californians to visit."
The proposed boundary expansion has broad, bipartisan support including California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, 47 members of the California State Legislature, the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, two former Yosemite National Park Superintendents, adjacent landowners and homeowners association, the Yosemite Conservancy, the Sierra Club and Environment California.
Costa Bill Would Restore Yosemite to Muir's Original Vision
Washington, DC- Rep. Jim Costa has introduced legislation that would expand Yosemite to include nearly 1,600 acres of land that were originally intended for inclusion within the park. The Yosemite National Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013 would adjust the park's current boundary to protect its vulnerable western border and prevent the potentially problematic and costly development of these remote areas. Senator Dianne Feinstein has also introduced companion legislation in the United States Senate.
"Yosemite is a national treasure and preserving these lands will help maintain the integrity of the park for generations to come," said Costa."Yosemite holds a special place in the hearts of all Californians, and that's why we have had broad bipartisan support line up behind this proposal. As we approach Yosemite's 150th anniversary, there is no more fitting tribute than recommitting ourselves to protecting the park and restoring it to John Muir's original vision."
The bill would specifically authorize the voluntary sale of lands within the new boundary to the National Park Service. While the sale is authorized, Costa's bill respects rights of local landowners whose property falls within the new park boundary. The legislation does not authorize additional funds for the purchase of the adjacent land in Mariposa County.
Last week, the California State Senate approved a resolution urging the adoption of legislation to add the 1,600 acres to the park. Broad support for park expansion continues to grow among elected officials as the bill has gained the support of California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, members of the California State Legislature, including Mariposa County Senator Tom Berryhill and Assemblymember Kristin Olsen.
Additional groups supporting the legislation include Pacific Forest Trust, the Yosemite West Property & Homeowners Association, the Yosemite Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and Environment California.