California’s Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin deserts are among the most pristine and unique lands in the world. From painted mountains to hidden springs, from world-famous wildflowers to majestic herds of desert bighorn sheep, Americans have long been drawn to the stark beauty of California’s desert.
Preserving Our Desert’s Wild Places and Waters
Tourism and recreation are an essential part of the desert region’s economy. The desert is also a bridge to our Native American, pioneering, and homesteading roots. To this day, hikers can still follow pristine mountain streams, migrating wildlife, and historic trails for hundreds of miles, and experience a place where little has changed over thousands of years.
Paradoxically, the fragile desert environment is teeming with wildlife and plant life. This unique place needs protection from encroaching urbanization, poorly-sited renewable energy projects and other human intrusions.
The public has an historic opportunity to work with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and the local congressional delegation to add additional protections to publicly-owned land so that they provide wildlife corridors, protect important watersheds and waterways, and preserve our desert heritage for generations to come.
Administrative Action Designating Three National Monuments
Given Congress’ track record of inaction, Senator Dianne Feinstein and local community leaders and advocates pursued a dual track approach of both advocating for legislation and urging President Obama to take action to designate Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments in order to permanently protect their unique features and uses for current and future generations. Last year, Senator Feinstein called on President Obama to designate the national monuments, building on years of effort to pass legislation to protect these places. On February 12, 2016, President Obama officially designated those public lands. In doing so, the President followed in the footsteps of nearly every president since 1906 – eight Republicans and eight Democrats – who have used the Antiquities Act more than 140 times to protect special places, including Joshua Tree and Death Valley. National Monument status means that these lands will be permanently protected from renewable energy development and other harmful development while maintaining public access for recreation activities such as hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, star-gazing, and more.
Follow the links below to find out more about each of these important areas from the Campaign for the California Desert, which CalWild leads.
Mojave Trails National Monument – One of North America’s most unique landscapes, the Mojave Desert is home to vital wildlife habitat, unspoiled desert vistas, and an incredible slice of American history. Mojave Trails is the connective tissue linking Mojave National Preserve to Joshua Tree National Park and existing Wilderness Areas, providing habitat for sensitive wildlife and pristine scenery. It contains irreplaceable archaeological and cultural sites including sacred Native American trails and trade routes.
Sand to Snow National Monument – Rising dramatically from the Sonoran Desert floor to snowy peaks of Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s tallest alpine mountain, the Sand to Snow National Monument is one of the most critical wildlife corridors in Southern California. It also boasts stunning cultural sites including a rich heritage of Native American petroglyphs and mortars.
Castle Mountains National Monument – The Castle Mountains encompass native desert grasslands and wildlife habitat for golden eagles, and some of the finest Joshua tree, pinon pine, and juniper forests in the California Desert. The area features stunning vistas of the rocky California and Nevada desert mountain ranges, including Nevada’s Spirit Mountain, which is revered by southwestern Native American tribes and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Supporting the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017
On January 5th, 2017, Senator Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017, building on the Senator’s historic California Desert Protection Act, which became law in 1994. The new legislation is designed to protect additional land and help manage California’s desert resources by carefully balancing conservation, recreation, and renewable energy development. The legislation would:
- Protect 328,867 acres of federal land as wilderness in southeastern California, ranging from the Avawatz Mountains near Death Valley to Milpitas Wash in Imperial County;
- Enlarge Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park by 43,000 acres (67 square-miles);
- Protect important waterways such as the Amargosa River from future dam construction and development;
- Establish the 81,800-acre Vinagre Wash Special Management Area in Imperial County where many ecologically sensitive areas and Native American heritage sites would be protected;
- Designate the Alabama Hills area in Inyo County (the location for dozens of movies and television shows) as a National Scenic Area so that its priceless vistas are protected;
- Permanently prohibit the staking of new mining claims on approximately 10,000 acres of land sacred to the Quechan Tribe in Imperial County;
- Mandate the study and protection of Native American cultural trails along the Colorado River;
- Help make it more difficult for developers to exploit groundwater in or near the Mojave National Preserve; and
- Require the Department of the Interior to study the future impacts of climate change on the California desert, to mitigate these impacts and to identify and protect important wildlife migration corridors in the region.
For the last decade, Senator Feinstein has worked in San Bernardino, Inyo, Riverside, and Imperial counties to garner support for various versions of this legislation. CalWild spent years organizing around these efforts bringing together local elected officials, small businesses, OHV groups, and environmentalists. These efforts were recently rewarded when President Obama designated the Castle Mountains, Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments, protecting 1.7 million acres of federal land.
Senator Feinstein has crafted a balanced bill that will have the support of not only conservationists, but of off-road vehicle enthusiasts, veterans, local government, utilities, small businesses, tribes and the military, among a long list of other interests. As a result, her legislation would also benefit off-roaders by protecting 140,000 acres of existing off-road riding areas from mining, energy development, military base expansions, or other decisions that would close them to vehicle use on a permanent basis. Each of the five off-road recreation areas will have to be managed according to plans that the Bureau of Land Management will develop with public input.
In her statement announcing the introduction of the bill, Senator Feinstein notes that, “The new desert monuments designated last year form a cornerstone for future desert protection, but our work isn’t complete. I made a commitment to off-roaders and environmental groups to enact the entirety of last year’s bill, not just parts of it, and I intend to fulfill that promise.”
Millions of people come from all over the world to visit our desert every year. According to federal land managers (the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and National Park Service) outdoor recreationists spend about $225 million a year while visiting California’s desert region.
CalWild is continuing to work with elected officials and helping to lead the Campaign for the California Desert – a coalition of conservation groups, community leaders, and businesses – to pass this important legislation.
CalWild and our allies are working to:
- pass the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (CDPRA); and
- help lead the Campaign for the California Desert – a coalition of conservation groups, community leaders, and businesses committed to protecting the Desert ;