Congress considers 1,700-acre expansion of the Pinnacles

Congress expected to fund $3 million land acquisition for
Pinnacles National Monument
Hollister – The full U.S. Senate yesterday took up a bill that would provide $3 million for the National Park Service to buy the Pinnacles Ranch property, with the goal of adding the 1,700-acre parcel to the adjacent Pinnacles National Monument.

The land is now held by the Nature Conservancy, which bought it in February to prevent it from being developed.

The ranch property, situated next to the east entrance of the park in San Benito County, currently houses the only campground serving the Monument.

The House has already passed its version of the bill, H.R. 2361, which originated in the Subcommittee for the Interior and Environment.

It includes $40 million for all recreation land and investments.

The Senate version, debate on which continues today on the floor, provides for $162 million, with specific “earmarks.” California Sen. Diane Feinstein pushed for the inclusion of the $3 million, as well as an additional $4.7 million for a visitor’s center.

Ideally, The Nature Conservancy would transfer the land to the Park Service within three years.

If the bill passes in the Senate, it will next be taken up in a conference committee, to reconcile the differences between the two proposals.

“Usually something like this isn’t too controversial,” said Jessica Schaffer, Rep. Sam Farr’s press secretary. “But it depends on how the other bills in conference are looking, where the money’s going.”

The property in question is often cited as crucial for the rehabilitation of the California Condor, which were released into the wild near the Pinnacles in 2002.

Without Park Service protection, hunting could resume on the property. The condor is known to be susceptible to lead poisoning from carrion left by hunters.

Scott Gerber, Sen. Feinstein’s spokesman, described Feinstein as “confident” the money would survive the conference committee. If all goes well, he predicts that President Bush could sign the bill into law as early as October.

Congressman Sam Farr, who represents all of San Benito County, got the appropriations ball rolling, and worked with Sen. Feinstein to get the money into the senate version of the bill.

“Acquiring the Pinnacles Ranch for the Pinnacles National Monument has been a high priority for both me and the Administration,” said Farr in a press release. “I’m very happy to hear that Senator Feinstein has been able to insert the rest of the needed funds into this year’s Interior Department spending bill, especially since the House version did not allow such earmarks.”

“We’re thrilled about this,” said Schaffer. “The Pinnacles is much-loved by many people, and we have a lot of support up in Washington.”

By Danielle Smith. Erin Musgrave contributed to this report.

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