Legality of Yosemite park expansion disputed
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A U.S. lawmaker accused Yosemite National Park of breaking federal law by adding 400 acres for a wildlife preserve without clearing it through Congress, but federal park officials said Friday that he's misinterpreting the law.
The addition of wetlands, grassy meadows and forest on Yosemite's western boundary marks its largest expansion in nearly 70 years. Any significant amount of land added to a national park needs congressional approval, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement to The Associated Press.
"The Park Service acted outside of its authority, and we will require them to account for their actions," said the Utah Republican, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight of public land.
Bishop's staff says inquiries have just begun into how Yosemite acquired the land without oversight and what steps Congress will take next.
National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said the congressman is misreading the law. The land was donated, so it doesn't require congressional approval like acquisitions using federal funding, Olson said in a statement.
Yosemite announced this week that the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group, bought the land from a private owner for $2.3 million and donated it to the park.
Officials said they will preserve the land as habitat for wildlife such as the great grey owl, the largest owl in North America and listed as endangered by California wildlife officials.
Bishop said he does not want Yosemite to give back the land but wants answers. He said federal law requires approval of additions to a national park that are more than 200 acres and worth over $750,000.
The Park Service pointed to Land and Water Conservation Fund documents, saying the requirement only applies to acquisitions using that funding.
Bishop maintains that whenever the agency changes its boundaries on this scale, Congress must sign off, even if the land is donated, said Parish Braden, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Committee.
Bishop has long sparred with environmentalists and criticized limits on energy development and grazing in favor of wildlife protections.
He's condemned Obama administration bans on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and fought national monument declarations or proposals in at least half a dozen states.
Local cattle ranchers, loggers and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors late last year objected to adding the area, called Ackerson Meadow, to Yosemite. They said it took away land used for more than a century to graze cattle and harvest timber, among complaints.
"When you take land and put it into the National Park Service, they don't do anything with it," said Randy Hanvelt, a Tuolumne County supervisor. "It'll be fenced off from grazing."
The expansion brings Yosemite to a total of nearly 750,000 acres. The park's boundary has seen some minor changes over the years, but the addition is the largest since 1949.
More than 4.5 million people are expected to visit Yosemite this year, which officials said would set a record for the park that celebrated its 125th anniversary last year.
Draws to the park include the massive Half Dome rock and the sheer, granite face of El Capitan — both admired by visitors from the floor of Yosemite Valley. Elsewhere in the park stand groves of giant sequoia, some of the oldest and largest living things on Earth.
Visitors pass Ackerson Meadow on their way to Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides drinking water to San Francisco.
Associated Press reporters Michelle L. Price in Salt Lake City and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this story.