A grassroots effort to gain federal designation for the Alabama Hills as a National Scenic Area (NSA) may be gaining momentum after a recent meeting between the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group (AHSG) and a new representative for Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Members of the AHSG have been working for several years to develop a bill for the Senate that might grant the Alabama Hills an NSA designation, which would open up state and federal funding to expand the management and conservation of the Hills. “Right now 30,000 acres are under the district proscribed land management plan in the care of the Bishop Land Management (BLM),” explained Stewardship Group member Kevin Mazzu. “We have a part-time steward, but almost all the work out there is done on a volunteer basis.” Mazzu explained that additional funding would allow for two, full-time people in the field, infrastructure improvements to roads and campgrounds, and the transition of the AHSG to a nonprofit organization similar to Friends of the Inyo, with a board capable of applying for further grants.
“I think there’s also a lot of education opportunities [in the Hills],” Mazzu added. “We could develop a library in the Lone Pine Film Museum with reference materials for geological, Native American, mining, ranch, and film history in the area.”
Thus far the AHSG efforts have been met with support from the various communities—including hikers, climbers, and ATV riders—that use the Hills for recreation. The AHSG completed an extensive collection of input from the different user groups last year, and, said Mazzu, “pretty much everyone has been supportive.”
The only reservations came from the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, which saw a draft of the plan for designation last year. Although the vote to endorse the plan passed 4-1, District 4 Supervisor Marty Fortney, the one dissenting vote, explained he had some concerns that elevating the Hills to a federal NSA would allow for an elevation of federal control of the land, which might limit its recreational uses. Mazzu maintained that the designation was intended to do the opposite. “The whole spirit is to elevate the current status and protect the Hills while maintaining access and ability for the user groups to enjoy the Alabama Hills as they currently do,” he said.
AHSG specifically chose a low level federal designation (the NSA) to accommodate all existing access and user groups including hiking, cattle grazing, commercial filming, rock climbing, motorized vehicles, hunting, fishing, and camping. The designation would allow for improvements to existing infrastructure, while also maintaining what Mazzu called the “semi-primitive” nature of the area. Mazzu pointed out that the NSA’s only restriction is on future mineral extraction, which would protect the Hills from mining. There haven’t been any mining operations in the Hills since the 1950s, “so we’re not really giving up anything,” Mazzu said.
The recent meeting between the AHSG and Senator Feinstein’s staff was also largely positive, Mazzu reported. Members of the AHSG, including Chis Langley, Doug Thompson, and Mazzu, met with Chris Carrillo, the new Field Rep. for Senator Feinstein, and reviewed the designation plan for three hours. Said Mazzu, “Chris [Carrillo] was impressed with the process and the breadth and depth of support generated locally for the recommended NSA designation, and has discussed this specific legislation with the Senator.” He added, “Senator Feinstein, while both supportive and complimentary of our proposal, has not yet committed to ‘sponsor’ our specific bill.”
But the AHSG is happy with its progress so far, and realistic that an NSA designation bill might be low on the Senator’s list of priorities for the moment, considering the current state and national economic crises. “It’s anyone’s guess when this might be looked at seriously,” Mazzu said, “but the groundwork has been done. When they do look, they’ll see the plan has a broad base of support from their constituency, and that’s what the Senate is looking for.”