UPDATED NOV 2019: Mojave Trails National Monument was previously on our Top 5 list primarily due to two threats. One of those threats, the West Mojave Route Network (WEMO) Plan, was finalized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on October 4, 2019. While we are still of the opinion that BLM should have removed the Monument from the WEMO Plan and that the WEMO Plan negatively impacts the Cady Mountains portion of the Monument, the likelihood of this Plan remaining for quite some time in court litigation, where it has been since 2006, makes it rather unlikely that it will be implemented any time soon. In addition, given that BLM will proceed with a Monument management plan, which will eventually include a travel management plan that will supersede WEMO for lands in the Monument, we are hopeful that the routes designated by WEMO will not have a severe negative impact on the Monument.
The other reason the Monument was previously placed on this list was due to the President’s Executive Order in 2017, which placed most national monuments created since 1996 under review. To date, the Department of Interior (DOI) has not made any determination about any of the seven national monuments in California (except for Sand to Snow which was deemed “safe”). However, given that DOI has not taken any action to reduce in size or eliminate any national monuments other than Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante (which took place in December 2017), we are hopeful that the Administration has decided to leave Mojave Trails alone.
ORIGINAL POST: Mojave Trails National Monument was created in early 2016 by President Barack Obama, preserving more than 1.8 million acres of desert land in southern California. Both Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow National Monuments were included in this action, creating the world’s second-largest desert preserve.
Mojave Trails National Monument has a little bit of everything. It provides essential habitat for a number of desert species such as desert tortoises, desert bighorn sheep, and Joshua trees. Ancient lava flows and other geologic formations provide stunning vistas that glow under the desert sun, while the Mojave River, one of the few perennial (year-round) rivers in the California desert, flows through the landscape. One of the most scenic parts of the Monument is the Cadiz Dunes Wilderness, which faces its own unique threats that is explored elsewhere in our Top 5 Threatened Places in California series.
The Mojave Trails National Monument is important for more reasons than its ecological and scenic values. A significant portion of the Monument holds places and lands that are sacred and extremely important to the heritage of local Native American tribes. There are five World War II-era training camp sites, and numerous old mining areas and Route 66 ghost towns, showcasing the areas importance to the American West. A trip through Mojave Trails National Monument takes you through history, biodiversity, and a variety of powerful desert landscapes.
Sadly, this spectacular place is under threat, just as many other protected public lands are today. The most imminent threat comes in the form of the West Mojave Network Route Project (WEMO). The most recent version of the plan, released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in early 2018, plans to open up thousands of miles of motorized vehicle routes in the National Monument, threatening the ecological, geological, paleontological, and other important resources that the Monument proclamation said were in need of protection.
The proclamation for Mojave Trails states, “Except for emergency or authorized administrative purposes, motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation”. However, BLM is proposing to expand the mileage of motorized routes in the Monument.
This is concerning because adequate conservation management planning has not yet begun, which is essential for the creation of safe transportation plans that do not harm or destroy monument values. The BLM has essentially reversed the planning process and made plans to increase motorized access despite language in the original monument proclamation to the contrary. Inadequate transportation plans jeopardize the values that form the basis for monument designations in the first place.
In addition to WEMO, Mojave Trails is threatened by the Trump administration. Following President Trump’s executive order in 2017, where he placed most National Monuments created since 1996 under review, the very existence of Mojave Trails is uncertain. Of all seven national monuments in California, only Sand to Snow was deemed “safe” by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Nothing has been determined about the remaining monuments.
Mojave Trails faces a good number of immediate threats. CalWild has worked with local groups for decades on Mojave Trails National Monument, and is committed to continue the fight to ensure permanent protection for our state’s abundant treasures.