At last, a California desert bill

  After winning overwhelming approval in the U.S. Senate, the California Desert Protection Act is only one vote away from becoming law. The voluminous bill, which was held up for eight years by Republican opponents and commercial interests, would create 74 new wilderness areas, three new national parks, and protect a total of 6.3 million acres of southeastern California's fragile desert ecosystems. The measure is strongly backed by the Clinton administration, and sponsors Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer, both California Democrats, predict swift passage in the House. While national environmental groups support the bill, they worry about some 60 separate concessions from the original legislation made to accommodate the military, utility companies, mining interests, ranchers and off-road vehicle groups. According to the Los Angeles Times, environmentalists will seek to overturn three of those changes in the House: returning the scenic 290,000-acre Lanfair Valley to the proposed Mojave National Park, limiting grazing rights to 25 years and placing minor restrictions on military overflights.

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