FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Yosemite National Park violated federal law when it added 400 acres of land it plans to preserve as habitat for endangered wildlife without clearing it through Congress, a U.S. lawmaker said Friday.
The addition of wetlands, grassy meadows and forest on Yosemite’s western boundary marks its largest expansion in nearly 70 years. But any significant amount of land added to a national park needs congressional approval, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement to The Associated Press.
“The Park Service acted outside of its authority, and we will require them to account for their actions,” said the Utah Republican, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight of public land.
Yosemite announced this week that the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group, bought the land from a private owner for $2.3 million and donated it to the park.
Officials said they will preserve the land as habitat for wildlife such as the great grey owl, the largest owl in North American and listed as endangered by California wildlife officials.
Bishop said he does not want to give back the donated land, but he wants to know why Yosemite took action without congressional oversight. He cited federal law that requires approval of additions to a national park that are more than 200 acres and worth over $750,000.
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Local cattle ranchers, loggers and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors late last year objected to adding the area, called Ackerson Meadow, to Yosemite. They said it took away land used for more than a century to fatten beef cattle and harvest timber, among complaints.
“When you take land and put it into the National Park Service, they don’t do anything with it,” said Randy Hanvelt, a Tuolumne County supervisor. “It’ll be fenced off from grazing.”
The expansion brings Yosemite to a total of nearly 750,000 acres. The park’s boundary has seen some minor changes over the years, but the addition is the largest since 1949.
More than 4.5 million people are expected to visit Yosemite this year, which officials said would set a record for the park that celebrated its 125th anniversary last year.
Other draws to the park include the massive Half Dome rock and the sheer, granite face of El Capitan — both admired by visitors from the floor of Yosemite Valley.
Elsewhere in the park stand groves of giant sequoia, some of the oldest and largest living things on Earth.
Visitors pass Ackerson Meadow on their way to Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides drinking water to San Francisco.
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