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Thompson gains help protecting lake land
Sunday, February 6, 2005

By GABE FRIEDMAN
Register Staff Writer

Cedar Roughs, a huge swath of land west of Lake Berryessa, could receive
new protections from development under a bill being proposed in
Congress.

Although the measure has been defeated twice before in previous
legislative sessions, Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said he
believes the bill, known as the Northern California Coastal Wild
Heritage Wilderness Act, now has widespread bipartisan support.
California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are co-sponsoring
the bill.

If it passes, approximately 5,800 acres of land controlled by the Bureau
of Land Management -- including one of the world's largest groves of
Sargent cypress trees -- would be upgraded to a "wilderness" area,
permanently restricting new mining, oil and gas drilling and
construction of new roads. People who have permits to graze cattle, or
who hunt, fish or hike on the land would be unaffected, but mountain
bikes and mechanized vehicles would be prohibited.

"We worked with all the shareholders and refined (the bill) to protect
their interests," said Thompson. "It doesn't close any roads and it
doesn't revoke any grazing permits. We took into consideration their
concerns."

In all, the bill would protect some 300,000 acres of land in Lake, Del
Norte, Humboldt counties, but primarily in Mendocino County.

The bill creates different levels of restrictions for how the wilderness
could be used, according to Thompson. In some areas, exceptions were
made to accommodate mountain bike enthusiasts. Buffer zones where
logging can take place were left in other areas to address concerns
about fire hazards, Thompson said.

"It's very rugged country and it's very difficult to get to," said Tom
Gamble, a supporter of Thompson's bill and rancher whose family has
roots in the Berryessa area.

"It's a hike-in area," he added, noting that during the winter, when
Pope Creek roars, the land becomes difficult to access.

The land contains five miles of serpentine soil, California's official
mineral that often has a bluish-green hue. It is toxic to most plants.
Carol Kunze, chair of the Napa Sierra Club, said that the cypress trees
on the property are one of the most genetically-pure strains known to
exist.

The proposed wilderness is known to be an important breeding area for
black bears, as well as coyote and deer.

Cache Creek, another area protected by the bill, dips into a corner of
Napa County, though it lies primarily in Lake County. The area slated
for protection serves the second-largest wintering population of bald
eagles.
 
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