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Sen Feinstein Re-Introduces Desert Bill



Bill would designate important wilderness in the California desert and protect lands for recreation, wildlife, and tourism

The California Wilderness Coalition (CalWild) applauds Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) decision to introduce the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017 today. The legislation would:

  • Protect 230,000 acres (359 square-miles) 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 75,575-acre (118 square-mile) 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.”

“We applaud the leadership, vision, and perseverance that Senator Feinstein has shown in continuing to pursue a commonsense way to protect our valuable desert wilderness for people and wildlife,” said Ryan Henson, Senior Policy Director for CalWild.

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. Linda Castro, CalWild’s Southern California Representative added, “More protection for this unique landscape translates directly into stronger rural economies. Now is the time to make sure that these places are permanently protected.”

The California Wilderness Coalition is a 501(c)3 statewide non-profit organization that protects the natural landscapes that make California unique, providing clean air and water, a home to wildlife, and a place for recreation and spiritual renewal.