Don't Bury the California Desert Protection Act in the Sand

The Opinion page article "Who Benefits From Desert Protection?," March 31, attacks the California Desert Protection Act now before Congress. The author says "one section of the act would effectively prohibit all travel, except by foot, throughout the desert." This is not true.

The author speaks of a total lockup of the desert. He is wrong. None of the roads, and fewer than 100 miles of the jeep trails on which I have traveled, will be closed. All wilderness areas can continue to be reached by vehicle, and 85 percent of the area within such wilderness areas will be within 3 miles of a vehicle road or route.

The California Desert Protection Act will immeasurably benefit the desert itself and the benefits will accrue to its visitors now and the generations of the future. The act will enlarge Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments and designate them as national parks. Their combined 3 million visitors last year certainly were not locked out. The new 1.5 million acre Mojave National Park will be even more accessible.

I have visited the Saline Hot Springs over the decades, and they are most remote and truly world-class. The act places the area under the management of the National Park Service. The NPS can keep the springs remote but accessible. The present management under the Bureau of Land Management has sought twice to lease them out for geothermal development. One ill-placed test could ruin the hot springs forever. Elden Hughes, Whittier, Calif. Chair, Sierra Club Desert Committee

The Desert Protection Act leaves 33,000 miles of desert roads and primitive routes open for public access. It also designates 74 wilderness areas. The proposed legislation would also confer national park status on Death Valley National Monument and increase the size of the new park by adding 1.3 million acres of adjoining public land, including the Saline Valley area.

The act does nothing to limit access to this area. It will, however, prohibit off-road vehicular travel in the surrounding wilderness. It's about time. The Mojave Desert, where I live, and the warmer Colorado Desert to the south, are fragile ecosystems, and in many places they are dying under the wheels of weekend thrill-seekers.

For more than 40 years my wife and I have "experienced the real desert." We look forward to the passage of the long-deferred Desert Bill in the hope that our grandchildren will share that experience. Donald W. Moore, Ridgecrest, Calif. Environmental racism

Regarding the article "Combating Environmental Racism," March 17: Richard Kleiner, director of public affairs for the Louisiana Chemical Association, correctly says whites didn't intentionally put polluting plants in black neighborhoods. However, when speaking of reaching out to the minority community, he says that we need to talk more and build up some trust. This is a disappointing understatement.

Simply talking with each other is no longer enough. The petrochemical companies need to take more responsibility and make decisions that will solve the pollution problems that have been around for so many years.

I served as a missionary in the St. Louis area for two years and spent most of my time along the Mississippi River in minority neighborhoods. Many justifiable lawsuits against polluting companies are occurring in St. Louis and Louisiana because of the high incidences of health problems.

The trust between minority communities and chemical companies can be built only with meaningful communication and immediate positive reaction. Austin Weyand, Idaho Falls, Idaho

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