Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Former lawmaker Coelho opposes Merced River Plan

A voice from the past has joined the backlash against the National Park Service’s plan to protect the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

Tourism and business leaders in communities, such as Oakhurst, around Yosemite National Park are opposing the proposal, which would remove an ice-skating rink, a bicycle rental business and a few other amenities.

Now former Congressman Tony Coelho, who wrote an amendment to include the Merced River in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) , is opposing the removal of the amenities, saying the law was only intended to include the Merced River outside of Yosemite National Park to the west.

Coelho, once a powerful Democrat based in Merced, wrote a letter saying Yosemite Valley should not be considered wilderness. “Yosemite Valley should be left as it is,” he wrote.

The public comment period ends April 30 on the long-debated Merced River Plan, which has been in and out of court for the last decade. Park leaders have spent the last three years rewriting the plan to comply with court orders and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy expands again

The innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy has added another 280 acres to its growing swath of protected land — the old Tallman Ranch at the edge of Clovis where you’ll find deer, quail, ducks and the occasional wild hog.

The land is now called the Ted K. Martin Wildlife Preserve. Martin. 89, a lifelong resident of the Fresno-Clovis area, provided the $1.3 million to buy and maintain the property.

Earlier this year, Martin donated $2 million to the Fresno Regional Foundation to restore and preserve the San Joaquin River.

The new property becomes part of a 25,000-acre conservancy in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties. The organization is known for working with landowners to maintain natural foothill conditions.

Research has shown that grazing cattle help thin out the invasive grasses introduced by European settlers more than a century ago.

Well-managed grazing prevents sensitive vernal pools from being overrun by the invasive grasses. It has helped restore an elegant ecosystem on the distinctive flattop mountains in the foothills.

But this conservancy does much more than lease land for grazing. Two years ago, it launched its own beef herd called Sierra Lands Beef. A few hundred head help bring in more money for the conservancy.

The newest property in the conservancy was once a working cattle ranch with an interesting history, according to executive director Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis. She said the property, which is about 1,400 feet in elevation, was originally bought for $10 in the mid-1930s.

There are four ponds, fed from streams in the area, she said. There are two houses, one of which will be occupied by a caretaker.

“Access will be more restrictive than other parts of the conservancy,” she said. “This is an important wildlife area.”

Political Notebook: Obama has more Valley donors, but Romney has raked in far more cash

In city after city across the central San Joaquin Valley, President Barack Obama has attracted more donors for his reelection campaign than his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney.

But when it comes to the local cash haul, Romney rules.

Take Fresno, for instance. Obama had 2,214 donors with Fresno mailing addresses, while Romney had just 696. But those 696 donors gave Romney $438,050, while Obama’s more than 2,200 contributed $223,716.

The average per donor? It is $629.38 for Romney, and just $101 for Obama.
Across the region, it is similar story — Exeter, Visalia, Kingsburg, Hanford, Madera, Merced mailing addresses all show more Obama donors, but more total money for Romney.

It even holds true in a Republican stronghold like Clovis, where Obama had 455 donors to Romney’s 259, but Romney raised $135,107 to Obama’s $42,700.

Given Romney’s local high-dollar fundraisers, this is hardly surprising. The biggest of them all came in May, when Romney raked in more than $1 million at a fundraiser at the Sanger-area home of prominent west-side rancher John Harris and his wife, Carole.

Obama, by comparison, has never held a Valley fundraiser. All his campaign donations came from local people who took the initiative and sent in a check. The only exception would have been if a local wealthy Democrat attended one of Obama’s Los Angeles or Bay Area fundraisers.