WASHINGTON -- Two men forever identified with the Sierra Nevada would be honored under proposals that show how complicated name-changing can become.
Yosemite National Park activists want to name a 12,002-foot peak after the late alpine botanist Carl Sharsmith. Separately, lawmakers want to designate part of the Mineral King Valley the John Krebs Wilderness, commemorating the former congressman who helped preserve the region.
"It's a nice legacy and tribute, while he can still appreciate it," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said of the Krebs proposal.
Krebs is 80 years old, living in Fresno. Sharsmith died in 1994, after spending more than 60 years as a naturalist in Yosemite. The efforts to rename features after the men are following different tracks.
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Together, the Sierra Nevada renaming efforts illustrate the two basic ways of changing names of natural features. One route is bureaucratic, and the other is political. Both get complicated.
The Sharsmith Peak proposal is going through the Board of Geographic Names, staffed with representatives of agencies ranging from the Forest Service to the Postal Service.
The board must follow a 52-page manual of rules, some of which impede the Sharsmith Peak proposal.
"We earlier felt our proposal a likely success," said Bill Jones, Yosemite's former chief naturalist and a leading Sharsmith Peak proponent. "We now feel the board would reject our proposal if considered now."
Jones last January submitted a formal Sharsmith Peak application.
The selected peak, immedi- ately northwest of Tioga Pass, hosts the high-altitude flora the late ranger loved, and hikers already called it Sharsmith Peak.
Mono County supervisors endorsed the idea, as did several former Yosemite superintendents. California's Advisory Committee on Geographic Names, however, concluded the mountain peak was within protected wilderness and recommended against the change.
"A fundamental characteristic of wilderness is that features are nameless and the cultural overlay of civilization is absent," the board's manual notes.
The board's rules add that name proposals for wilderness areas are "discouraged" save for an "overriding need." Consequently, although no formal decision has yet been made, Sharsmith Peak advocates now think they must outflank the bureaucracy and petition Congress.
But as the John Krebs Wilderness proposal shows, introducing legislation is itself only the start of a long journey.
In mid-July, Costa, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill designating the 69,500-acre John Krebs Wilderness. Krebs helped protect the Mineral King Valley from a proposed Disney ski resort development in the late 1970s by folding the valley into Sequoia National Park.
Besides the Krebs wilderness, the bill adds 45,186 acres to the existing Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness.Because the land is already in a protected park, few management changes are expected.
Last week, the Bush administration said it supported the overall bill but questioned some of its provisions.
"While we believe these designations are appropriate, we would like to work ... on amendments that would address concerns raised," National Park Service Associate Director Karen Taylor-Goodrich advised a House subcommittee.
The bill, for instance, excludes from wilderness designation areas up to one-half mile from existing Mineral King cabins. That compromise helped win support from cabin owners. Taylor- Goodrich, though, said the wilderness exclusions should be limited to about 200 feet, as is customary in wilderness.
The legislation's authors said the park service will have to bend.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-383-0006.