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Alabama Hills group staying on top of bill

October 18, 2011

The Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine could be federally designated a Natural Scenic Area if the U.S. Senate approves legislation this year. The bill first has to pass through a subcommittee before reaching the floor. Photo by Mike Gervais

Community members are eager to hear what the U.S. Senate has to say on a local effort to obtain a federal designation for the popular Alabama Hills.
Representatives from the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group met with a new staff member of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office yesterday to acquaint themselves with the new pointman and keep the lines of communication of open.
Last year, the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group completed an extensive process of collecting input from different user groups who enjoy the Hills, as well as Inyo County residents and business owners, local leaders and state and federal legislators.
That process resulted in a plan to have the Hills designated as a National Scenic Area, which would open up streams of state and federal funding to help manage the popular recreational destination.
“We had input from over 30 stakeholder groups, and the endorsement of a National Scenic Area was pretty much unanimous from all stakeholders,” Stewardship Group Member Kevin Mazzu said in a recent interview.
With the support of the stakeholder groups, the Stewardship Group brought a plan before the Inyo County Board of Supervisors last year, outlining the boundaries of the designation and rules that would apply should it be approved.
After reviewing the proposal, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to endorse it, as long as state and federal officials did not tamper with the legislation that was drafted by the Stewardship Group.
Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney was the only supervisor to vote against the proposal, registering concern that inviting a federal designation for the Hills will only “open the door” for further federal involvement on local lands. His fear, he said, was that a designation would bring restrictions that would limit some user groups’ ability to recreate in the hills.
Mazzu said the designation was designed to do the exact opposite.
“The whole spirit is to elevate the current status and protect the Hills while maintaining access and the ability for user groups to enjoy the Alabama Hills as they currently do,” Mazzu said. “That’s what makes this so special. With all the user groups that were involved, this would be a kind of feather in our cap.”
One member of the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group whose livelihood depends on a wide variety of uses in the Alabamas is Inyo County Film Commissioner Chris Langley.
Langley often brings location scouts from Hollywood and other areas to the Hills to promote local filming, while touting the Bureau of Land Management’s “Don’t Crush the Brush” campaign.
Currently, Mazzu said the legislation for the designation is in the hands of Senator Feinstein, awaiting introduction in the Senate.
Once the legislation is introduced, Mazzu said the next step will be to create a Friends of the Alabama Hills group that will be charged with tracking and administering funding along with the Bureau of Land Management.
Mazzu said the Friends Group would also work alongside the BLM as Stewards of the Hills, helping to maintain current infrastructure.
“The BLM wants to be very coordinative and cooperative with the local community, and we will not be adding any new infrastructure, but maintaining what we have,” Mazzu said.
In addition to Feinstein, the Stewardship Group is working with other state officials to ensure there is support of the legislation.
“We have also been working with (Congressman Buck) McKeon’s office, so he is aware and can get involved on the House side,” Mazzu said.
It is currently unclear when the legislation will hit the Senate. After it is introduced, the bill will have to make its way through Senate Subcommittees before heading to the floor for approval.

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