The Desert



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 pioneering and homesteading roots. To this day, visitors 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.  Local Native American tribes continue to gather and engage in traditional uses throughout the desert, just as their ancestors did hundreds and thousands of years ago.

The desert is teeming with wildlife and plant life, in large part due to the seeps and springs that dot the landscape.  Scientists have also recently discovered that the undisturbed desert is an excellent carbon sink, which is an important consideration with climate change. This unique place needs protection from encroaching urbanization, poorly-sited mining and energy projects and other unsustainable human intrusions.

Golden Valley additions. Photo by Sam Roberts

Golden Valley Wilderness, protected in 2019. Photo by Sam Roberts

Passing the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act

In March 2019, CalWild celebrated another massive victory with Senator Feinstein when her California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (together with Representative Cook’s companion bill) was passed as part of the sprawling John. D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. This bill helped protect 375,500 acres of new wilderness, 73 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and builds on the Senator’s historic California Desert Protection Act, which became law in 1994. The 2019 bill also enlarged Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks by 39,835 acres and established the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in Inyo County and the Vinagre Wash Special Management Area in Imperial County, where many ecologically sensitive areas and Native American heritage sites are located. Click here to see the places protected by this bill.

CalWild will continue to work to ensure that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies appropriately implement the conservation aspects of this historic legislation.

Defending Our Desert National Monuments

On February 12, 2016, President Obama officially designated three national monuments in the California Desert — Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains.  This designation protected these lands from energy development, new mining claims, and other harmful development while maintaining public access for recreation activities such as camping, rockhounding, and star gazing.  They remain under threat of elimination or reduction in size due to the fact that the Administration’s national monument “review” that began in 2017 was never officially concluded.


Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP)

This BLM land use plan, which was finalized in 2016 after being in the works for almost a decade, was designed to balance renewable energy development, conservation, and recreation on public land in the desert.  BLM also used this Plan, which they are now referring to as the Desert Plan, to identify which lands in the California desert should be included in BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System.

The Desert Plan permanently designated 2.8 million acres of California Desert National Conservation lands and established actions that the BLM must take (or avoid) in order to protect the nationally significant scientific, ecological and cultural values that these lands possess.  However, under the Trump Administration, the BLM has embarked on a revision of this plan, which could result in many of the conservation aspects of the plan being gutted, which would undermine the carefully crafted balance between conservation and other uses of these desert lands.

CalWild is advocating for the BLM to move forward with implementation of the Desert Plan, while involving the same broad, multi-stakeholder approach that continues to emphasize state and local government collaboration.  We will also oppose any proposed changes to the Plan that will eliminate or reduce conservation aspects of the Plan.

Site Specific

CalWild is defending our desert public lands from multiple ongoing threats including poorly-sited energy development projects and harmful land use planning decisions (or a complete lack of land planning efforts) on the part of the BLM.

The Next Bill

We are working on a new legislative effort with Rep. Ruiz in Riverside County that will encompass the many ecological, historical, and cultural values found and not yet protected in and around the Coachella and Chuckwalla Valleys. Stay tuned and join our mailing list for more information.

California Desert

CalWild and our allies helped:

  • pass the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (CDPRA) in 2019;
  • finalize the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in 2016; and
  • designate Mojave Trail, Castle Mountains, and Sand to Snow National Monuments in 2016


The latest news specific to the Desert.

Get The Facts

Learn the details about the various wilderness-quality areas throughout the California Desert.

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