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The Next Big Step: Achieving the Chuckwalla National Monument

by Linda Castro, Assistant Policy Director

 

As we wind down our celebrations over the recent Presidential Proclamations expanding Berryessa Snow Mountain and San Gabriel Mountains National Monuments, our thoughts are starting to become laser focused on the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument.

 

The great news is that we’re one step closer to reaching our goal of a national monument designation – in the event that you missed the news, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland toured the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument and conducted listening sessions with Tribal Nations and a number of stakeholders, including CalWild, on Saturday, May 18th.  We greatly appreciate that Secretary Haaland took the time to see for herself what a treasure the lands are that would comprise the Chuckwalla National Monument.

 

CalWild believes that it is important to continue to put a lot of time and energy into the Chuckwalla campaign for a myriad of reasons.  However, the following ones rise to the top of the list:

 

  • The designation will protect countless values;
  • The designation will protect and hopefully enhance recreational access; and
  • The designation will provide permanent protections for important habitat and connectivity.

 

The lands that make up the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument have numerous values including habitat for various rare and imperiled species; springs and desert dry washes; interesting geological features; cultural significance to at least 13 Tribal Nations; numerous historical places and values (some of which are nationally significant), and more.  Over the past several years, we’ve shared information about some of these values with you.

 

The legislation that both Sen. Padilla and Rep. Ruiz, M.D. introduced to designate the Chuckwalla National Monument, requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as part of its preparation of a Resource Management Plan for the Monument, to assess ways to improve recreational opportunities within and enhance access to the Monument.  We would expect to see similar language in a Presidential Proclamation designating the Monument.  We believe that it is important that BLM fully-understand the myriad of uses that take place on these lands and that it manages these lands in a manner that enhances and protects all recreational uses that are consistent with the protection of Monument values and resources.  In particular, we believe that BLM should take a long, hard look at how it can best meet the needs of local communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley who not only are frequent users of these nearby lands, but are the often the least likely to be able to afford to travel to far away public lands or to those that charge an entrance fee.  During the BLM’s development of the management plan, we will urge BLM to commit to managing the Monument in a manner that will ensure that recreational access to the national monument, especially in the Meccacopia area, remains free or low cost.

 

Finally, the designation would make permanent a number of existing ways that BLM currently manages the land, so that the important habitat for many imperiled species such as desert bighorn sheep, burro deer, Sonoran pronghorn (when they are reintroduced to the region), desert tortoise, and many rare and endemic plants, is protected.  (“Endemic” means that they are not found anywhere else.)  The national monument would be the connective “glue” between seven existing Wilderness areas and would also protect connectivity from lands within the proposed Monument to Joshua Tree National Park, which is especially critical for bighorn sheep.  Scientists have recognized the importance of protecting habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors for quite some time, but this has become even more important with the effects of climate change becoming more and more evident.  The national monument designation would help provide that protection in a number of ways, including:  providing a permanent prohibition on new industrial-scale mining operations; making the existing prohibition against renewable energy development a permanent one; and making permanent the current requirement that travel on lands within the proposed Monument take place on legally designated BLM routes.

 

The next step for the Chuckwalla campaign, if recent national monument designations are any indication, is for the Department of Interior to hold a public listening session.  We are one of many organizations who are urging the Department of Interior to hold that public meeting soon and will keep our supporters updated on any news that may arise on the Chuckwalla National Monument.