SACRAMENTO — More than a century ago John Muir argued that Congress should include a wildlife corridor with stunning vistas of the Merced River in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. He lost to timber interests.
Now with the old-growth Ponderosa pine and cedar long gone, a California nonprofit is trying to make good on the famed environmentalist's vision. Pacific Forest Trust has agreed with a group of private landowners to sell the 1,600-acre parcel to the National Park Service.
The addition of land on the western boundary near El Portal would be the 761,000-acre park's first expansion in more than 70 years.
"It has a magnificent view of the Wild and Scenic Merced River, and it's also a migration corridor for deer," said Laurie Wayburn, president of the forest trust group. "This was always meant to be a part of the park."
The federal government would use money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which collects fees from offshore oil drilling fees to acquire sensitive land and easements.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa introduced bills on Tuesday to modify the boundary of the park that hosts 4 million visitors a year.
"Yosemite's popularity is also its greatest challenge," Feinstein said in a news release.
Besides logging, the land that would be included in the expansion has had pressure from development. It surrounds the Yosemite West subdivision that would not be included in the sale.
Park officials declined to comment on the expansion proposal, citing regulations that keep them from commenting on pending legislation.
But last week the California State Senate approved a resolution urging the expansion. It also has support from the Board of Supervisors in Mariposa County, where the land is remotely located and delivering services such as police and fire protection is expensive.
The Pacific Forest Trust bought 900 acres eight years ago from the second owners after the Yosemite Timber Co., which cut its last trees from the property roughly 140 years ago. The family wanted the land protected. The owners of the rest of the property are a consortium of doctors who purchased it as an investment years ago but are willing to sell now.
The trust worked for eight years to thin heavy stands of white fir that are susceptible to fire and to restore meadows whose water they sucked dry. Wayburn said the trust will donate one-third of the value of the land, which will be established through a fair market appraisal.
"We always intended it to go into the park," she said. "Yosemite is a national treasure and the pride of the state."