Representatives from the Alabama Hills Stewardship Committee and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office met Monday to discuss the future of Lone Pine’s beloved hills.
Feinstein Field Representative Chris Carrillo, who is taking over responsibilities on the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area designation, spent about three hours discussing the project with Stewardship Group representatives Chris Langley, Doug Thompson and Kevin Mazzu to get up to speed on the project.
“This was another of the dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours spent by the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group working on preserving and protecting the Alabama Hills,” Mazzu said after the meeting, adding that Carrillo, and his predecessor James Peterson, “are impressed with the process and the breadth and depth of positive support generated locally for the recommended National Scenic area designation …”
The Alabama Hills Stewardship Group has been working for the past three years to have a federal designation laid over the Alabama Hills to preserve its current wide range of uses, from hiking to climbing to off-highway vehicle use.
To ensure that every user group is represented and all current uses in the Hills remain available, the Stewardship Committee held a number of public meetings, bringing representatives from each identified user group on board to help select a fitting federal designation for the area.
Ultimately, the group moved forward with a recommendation to have a National Scenic Area designation placed over the hills.
“Senator Feinstein, while both supportive and complimentary of our proposal has not yet committed to be the ‘sponsor’ of our specific bill,” Mazzu said. He added that there was discussion to have the Alabama Hills designation included in the 2011 California Desert Protection Act, “but since that legislation will not be allowed to ‘grow’ any larger, that is no longer the current thinking.”
Because the Hills legislation will not be included in the Desert Protection Act, Mazzu said the next steps towards having the designation signed into law will be to finalize a draft of the bill, which was completed earlier this year, and recommend that Feinstein introduce it as stand-alone legislation.
Mazzu said having the bill as stand-alone legislation was one thing the Stewardship Group originally recommended.
“The timing of any next steps/introduction of this legislation is highly speculative, given the fact that the Senate and House of Representatives have much more pressing business (i.e., balanced budget, economy, elections, etc.) on their plate at this time.
In addition to the dozen-plus user groups who have signed off on the bill, Congressman Buck McKeon’s staff and the Inyo County Board of Supervisors have reviewed and expressed support for the bill.
Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney was the only county leader who voted against the proposal, saying he feared inviting federal designations for Inyo’s popular attractions would lead to more restrictions on land use, rather than protecting current uses, as the Stewardship Group intends to do.
Other board members shared those fears and advised the Stewardship Group to have the bill introduced as standalone legislation and asked that state and federal officials not be permitted to tamper with the locally drafted bill.
“The goal is to make the Alabama Hills as accessible and activity inclusive as possible, while still preserving the jaw-dropping beauty of this semi-primitive and scenic landscape,” Mazzu said.