Following last week’s heated meeting regarding the Bodie Hills and other national Wilderness Study Areas (WSA), the MT asked all five of the Mono County Supervisors to weigh in on the future of the process. Here is what they had to say, in their own words.
(Supervisor Larry Johnston left for vacation right after that meeting and was not available for comment by press deadline.)
Byng Hunt, District 1 (Mammoth):
The WSA issue is not going to disappear anytime soon. Congress has to decide the next step, and several initiatives are underway at the moment. I only hope that new updated individual determinations will be made for each WSA and IRA, which would involve a local stakeholders public process, much like we did for the recent successful wilderness legislation for lands in Mono County. Blanket release, as prescribed in the proposed H.R. 1581 is totally absurd and should not be allowed to pass.
As for the Bodie Hills WSA specifically, the central issue is clearly tourism vs. mining. The central question is: Who do we want to be; “Wild by Nature” or a closed off industrial wasteland? What benefits our local economy the most and the longest? In my view, our “gold” lies not in the ground, but in our awesome landscapes and open spaces that draw human interests from around the world. I do not want the Bodie Hills WSA released until we can find a new paradigm or land use designation that preserves the integrity of our unique landscapes.
Does that necessarily mean a declaration of wilderness? Maybe, maybe not. But turning even parts of the area over to those with huge money and power and short-term interests, is shortsighted and downright immoral. My efforts over the next few months and years will center around developing a vision and workable strategy for growing the county’s economy based on the natural and cultural values that we hold dear to our hearts. The Board of Supervisors has formed an Economic Development Committee to investigate the opportunities and strategies that we can use to build on our recreational and tourism base while maintaining the integrity of our unique public lands. We will be looking for your support. The WSA issue is not over, but our determination to preserve our unique character and grow our local economy by rational means remains strong.
Vikki Bauer, District (June Lake, Mammoth):
Whatever is next, it needs to be built on a different model than the last four hearings. We have two very polarized sides coming together at the last moment to see who has the most political clout. I thought Mr. Hunewell had it right, we need to do something, but it doesn’t fit the wilderness model. Since this is Congress’ jurisdiction, they would need to take the lead on it in a bipartisan fashion.
Tim Hansen, District 4 (Lee Vining and northern Mono County):
After the inevitable mining talk was over, there was no direction from the board so I made a motion after Hap (Hazard, chair of the board) took back the gavel. It was pretty innocuous, asking for the board to acknowledge the resolution (Hansen had put on the agenda asking for the supervisors to support removing the WSA status from the Bodie Hills and to support H.R. 1581) and to pledge to the citizens to be included in a public forum whenever any future discussions concerning the Bodie Hills occurred, as per FLPMA (Federal Land Policy and Management Act) rules relating to the coordination process.
I could not get a second, so that was it. The point was that there was a problem and decisions needed to be made to protect the uses we now all enjoy, especially after the letter I received from Ken Salazar asking for nominations for new “crown jewel” wilderness to be suggested. I can’t quote what I actually said as I threw my notes away in disgust. I was very disappointed that no one would take a first step to begin a process that everyone agreed needed to be taken.
Hap Hazard, District 2 (Crowley Lake south, Tri-Valley area):
I believe our chance to resolve this issue has come and gone, at least for some time into the future, especially now that (Congressman) Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) will no longer represent us (due to upcoming Federal redistricting). I suggested a compromise solution (late this winter) that would have split the Bodie Hills into part wilderness, part multiple use that I believe could have gotten support in Washington but that opportunity has passed, and the compromise failed at the board level. Now, both sides are so polarized; I do not believe they could come to an agreement in the near future. The federal agencies don’t have the time or staff to facilitate a discussion involving the 12 Mono County WSAs. The local groups are just too polarized to find agreement and there is no bipartisanship in Washington for a true compromise solution like what occurred during the last big wilderness bill, proposed by both Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon and Senator Barbara Boxer.
I think we will have to wait until the timing is better. I also don’t see H.R. 1581 as going anywhere during this congressional year and the issue appears to be a dead issue. I think we’ll just have to wait for new people in Washington and look for a fresh start.