(April 13 -- By the Editorial Board)
Yosemite National Park would not be the protected and beloved place it is today without champions. These include John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, journalist Robert Underwood Johnson, painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Hill and photographers such as Ansel Adams.
And now we have U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock.
Because of redistricting last year, McClintock's 4th District now includes Yosemite National Park. As the representative of this world-famous natural wonder, McClintock made his first visit to Yosemite and some of its gateway communities a week ago Tuesday.
To his credit, McClintock has proposed legislation to recognize a woman who was influential in saving Yosemite in the 19th century. Jessie Ann Benton Frémont, the daughter of U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and wife of John C. Frémont, used her personal and political connections to advance protection of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. According to historian Craig MacDonald, "Jessie loved working behind the scenes, never desiring any credit for her role in orchestrating the first effort to save Yosemite." With little fanfare, McClintock has introduced legislation to rename Mammoth Peak - which at 12,117 feet, is Yosemite's sixth-highest peak - after this unsung hero. Members of California's congressional delegation should join McClintock in approving HR 1192, which would redesignate Mammoth Peak as "Mount Jessie Benton Frémont."
Unfortunately, McClintock is proving to be an uneven champion of Yosemite.
In particular, McClintock is said to be opposing legislation that would authorize the National Park Service to add 1,600 acres to Yosemite in Mariposa County. The legislation is backed by the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It would preserve two tributaries of the Merced River. The Pacific Forest Trust, which owns about half of the land, says it would be the first expansion of the park in over 85 years.
As McClatchy's Michael Doyle reported last Sunday, McClintock also helped kill a measure by Rep. Jeff Denham, a fellow Republican who previously represented Yosemite, which would have authorized the Park Service to acquire 18 acres for a new Yosemite visitors center in Mariposa. While McClintock said he didn't want Congress "to pick one winner out of many losers" among gateway communities, such a comment was a kick in the teeth to many Mariposa residents. The county is among the poorest in California, and one of its few economic prospects is more Yosemite-related tourism.
Worst of all, McClintock is going out of his way to disparage national parks employees, including those who have developed the Merced River plan, an attempt to reconcile recreation and conservation needs following the 1997 flood in Yosemite. While there are items to question in the plan - such as banning bike and raft rentals and removing the stone Sugar Pine bridge, built in 1928 - McClintock is making Yosemite employees sound like Gestapo agents. When talking to Mariposa supervisors on April 2, he lectured the Park Service, saying its job is to welcome and accommodate visitors, "not to restrict and harass them."
We attempted to talk to McClintock - to ask him why he opposes the Mariposa visitors center and the park expansion, while going out of his way to disparage Yosemite employees, whom he will need to work with in his district.
He rebuffed our requests. If you would like to seek answers, here's how you can do so:
Contact Rep. McClintock at http://mcclintock.house.gov/contact/