John Krebs Wilderness to finally take root
Posted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 9:35 am
John Krebs Wilderness to finally take root
Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009
By Michael Doyle / Fresno Bee Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - The House as early as today will extend a rare honor to former Fresno-area congressman John Krebs, as lawmakers are expected to give final approval to establishing a 39,740-acre John Krebs Wilderness in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.
Few of the nation's other 700-plus designated wildernesses have been named for living individuals. The 82-year-old Krebs, though, has persistent allies on his side and some interesting history in his corner.
"I feel humbled," Krebs said in a telephone interview Tuesday, "but I'd be less than honest if I didn't also tell you I'm very pleased for my family."
Krebs explains: During his time in Congress, and before that in his other public offices, he was frequently absent, traveling or late for family functions. Now, he figures, recognition for one is recognition for all.
The new wilderness designation that will go to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature covers land already protected as part of Sequoia National Park. Neither visitors nor nearby property owners will see much difference in land management. Nonetheless, the new wilderness serves as symbol and as case study.
It's a symbol of respect for a former congressman who lost his job because of the protections he won a generation ago for the Mineral King Valley. And it's a case study of the time, persistence and negotiations that legislating demands.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the first John Krebs Wilderness effort in May 2002. It would have designated 68,480 acres as protected wilderness.
Since then, the wilderness size has been cut by 42%. Mineral King Valley cabin owners have carved themselves out of the wilderness area. Commercial horse-packing operations have been protected. The wilderness bill itself has been folded into a 1,248-page public lands package.
Some of the revisions alarmed some park advocates, including within the park service itself, but in the end the compromises were the price lawmakers paid.
"That's the legislative process," Krebs said. "It's like trying cases; you win some, you lose some."
The wilderness bill was originally scheduled for a vote today. While it might be postponed several days, its final passage is certain. The Senate already approved it on a 73-21 margin.
An attorney, one-time Fresno County planning commissioner and then county supervisor, Krebs served in the House of Representatives from 1975 through 1978. As a congressman, the achievement for which he is most known was the inclusion of Mineral King Valley in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
The park status established in 1978 fended off the Walt Disney Co., which had plans for a big ski resort in the region. It also drew conservative opposition, well-funded by the local building industry among others. This led directly to Krebs' defeat in 1978 by Republican challenger Charles "Chip" Pashayan, who attacked Krebs for having cost the San Joaquin Valley jobs. Pashayan's congressional seat is now held by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who worked for Krebs in 1975 and 1976.
"He took on a lot of interest groups at the time," Costa said Tuesday, "and it showed a great deal of political courage."
Costa originally proposed naming a Sierra Nevada peak after the former congressman, but renaming geographic features presents difficulties, including a standard policy that the individual being honored be dead for at least five years.
When first introduced, the Krebs Wilderness bill faced a conservative chairman of the House Resources Committee, Tracy Republican Richard Pombo, who was not inclined to approve new wilderness areas.
Even after Democrats regained congressional control in 2007, negotiations grew occasionally testy over the three key issues of homes, horses and hydropower. The fact that the affected region was in a congressional district represented by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, brought in a new voice to reckon with.
Mineral King Valley cabin owners wanted to avoid inclusion in federal wilderness, which can limit use of machines. Negotiators eventually excluded the cabins, and at Nunes' insistence provided a larger-than-usual buffer area around them.
Southern California Edison wanted continued access to check dams that are part of the utility's hydropower network. They got it.
Finally, backcountry horsemen wanted to retain access to popular trails in the region. Eventually, after taking a stab with legislative language, lawmakers simply excluded from wilderness most of the major areas used by horsemen.
"There was good compromising all around," Costa said.