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California losing its wild lands, study finds

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When organic gardener Alisdair Coyne wants to relax, he prefers to hike the rolling hills and steep canyons in Los Padres National Park.

But lately, his solitude has been ruined by the whine of off-road vehicles tearing through the once-pristine wilderness in Southern California."If you walk along any one area, you're not going to come across dozens of miles of new trail in a day's hiking," said Coyne, who lives in Ojai, 55 miles northwest of Los Angeles. "But you start adding it up around the state, and it's a lot. It's the big picture that's frightening."

A report issued Wednesday echoes his frustration, suggesting California's wilderness areas are shrinking by the day due to logging, mining and other human intrusions.

The nonprofit California Wilderness Coalition concluded that the state's national forests have lost 675,000 acres in the past 20 years, an area nearly the size of Yosemite National Park. The coalition has created the first inventory of California's public wild areas since a 1979 report by the U.S. Forest Service.

"These are California's last wild places," said Paul Spitler, the group's executive director and co-author of the report. "These are the last parcels of land to go and appreciate the peace and quiet of nature. We've simply lost too much, and when they're gone, they're gone."

The report said California's national forests are losing wild areas at a rate of 97 acres every day.

The yearlong study recommends making the rest of California's roadless lands off-limits to logging, road construction, mining and other development. Spitler and co-author Ryan Henson called on the Clinton administration to revise its proposed ban on road construction, which exempts more than 1.25 million acres in California.

Not everyone shares that view. Take retiree Harry Johnson, who has lived almost all his life in Lake Shasta in northern California. That's not far from the 9,300-acre Kettle Mountain area in Shasta-Trinity Forest, which the report says has been devastated by logging and road construction.

Johnson said logging is necessary to clear brush and provide grazing land for the deer, elk and turkeys that used to be more prevalent in the area.