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Part of King Range, the longest undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States, is seen at Mattole Beach in California's Humboldt County. 
updated 10/18/2006 5:04:40 PM ET 2006-10-18T21:04:40

President Bush signed legislation Tuesday protecting more than 273,000 acres in Northern California, the state's biggest federal wilderness designation in more than a decade.

Areas protected include King Range, the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States; Cache Creek, home to the second-largest wintering bald eagle population in California; and portions of Eel River, which hosts 30 percent to 50 percent of the state's endangered summer-run steelhead trout.

Environmentalists cheered Bush's action on the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act. The law protects some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in California, including a long stretch of undeveloped beach and coastal bluffs in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

"The president put the capstone on years of hard work by a citizen-led conservation coalition to protect over 273,000 acres of our most spectacular wild land," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. He said the law would create "a real and lasting legacy of our natural heritage."

The law is the product of a compromise between Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, that also has the support of most local government officials and off-road motor recreation groups.

Pushed in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the law includes approximately 51,000 acres as a "recreation management area" for off-highway vehicles and mountain bikes. The law also designates 21 miles of the Black Butte River in California's North Coast as a "wild and scenic river" and give it federal protected status.

The law creates the first federal wilderness area in California since passage of the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002, and the largest since the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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