The beauty of the region that paints the eastern realms of Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties — stretching from wilderness northwest of Mendocino National Forest to Lake Berryessa — is no secret to local outdoor enthusiasts.

The area, which includes the Cache Creek Wilderness, the Eel River Headwaters, the Knoxville Wildlife area and Mount Konocti, is a destination for hikers, mountain bikers and biologists alike from the coastal cities as well as from communities along I-80. The region offers a diversity of plant and animal life, from wildflowers and blue oak woodlands to river otters, mountain lions and osprey.

But given that it's governed by a hodge-podge of federal agencies, this beautiful corner of California lacks the oversight needed to ensure its ongoing preservation as well as its promotion as a tourist destination.

For those reasons, we support legislation now before Congress that would designate 320,000 acres of the area as the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area. The bill, authored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, would ensure the protection of the open space areas while promoting recreation and business in the area. Moreover it would improve the coordination of those federal agencies — including the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service — that have oversight.

Contrary to fears raised by critics, this is not a land grab. Hunting and fishing would still be allowed in the conservation area. No legal roads would be closed, and this would not result in the acquisition of private lands from unwilling sellers. That's why the bill has widespread support from elected officials and businesses in the region.

We recognize that encouraging the passage of HR 1025, — and its companion bill in the Senate, SB 483, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer — at a time when Republicans and Democrats in Congress can't seem to agree on the day of the week is howling in the wind. But we believe improved coordination of federal agencies, better use of tax dollars and measures that seek economic development are bipartisan ideals.

Let this also serve as a reminder to Congress that there are other matters, beside political squabbles, that require its attention — such as designation of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area.

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