Feinstein Introduces Bill To Catalog Another 1.6 Million Desert Acres As Monuments

(February 10) Four months after President Barack Obama designated nearly 350,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument, California Senator Dianne Feinstein this week introduced legislation aimed at increasing protections for approximately 1.6 million acres of desert landscapes, establishing two new national monuments and expanding Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve.
Feinstein’s bill, the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015, would establish the Mojave Trails National Monument, situated between Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, and the Sand to Snow National Monument, which lies between Joshua Tree National Park and San Bernardino National Forest, and it would protect waterways such as Deep Creek and the Amargosa River as Wild and Scenic Rivers, establish the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area and designate several new wilderness areas.
Conservationists and desert preservationists hailed the legislation as an effective means of maintaining an important part of California’s natural and cultural heritage and safeguarding a resource that should be accessible to the public for outdoor recreation activities.
Included in the public lands to be protected by the act are some 200,000 acres of once privately-owned land purchased or otherwise acquired by The Wildlands Conservancy, which has joined with the Campaign for the California Desert and the Alliance For Desert Preservation in supporting the bill. The Wildlands Conservancy transferred the property to the U.S. Department of Interior to be managed for recreation, habitat and cultural resource protection, and other conservation purposes.
Opponents of large scale solar projects in pristine areas of the desert are also in favor of Feinstein’s proposed legislation.
San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor James Ramos, a Democrat, commended Feinstein for taking up the proposed legislation, saying, “The California desert lands are important to our community’s quality of life and to our local economy. This legislation will help ensure that this legacy is protected for future generations.”
Feinstein is a Democrat.
The other San Bernardino County supervisor representing the county’s desert area, Robert Lovingood, had not commented on the proposed legislation by press time. Lovingood is a Republican.
Republicans differ with Democrats on the advisability of subjecting large swathes of San Bernardino County to federal protection. In the case of Obama’s set-aside of area within the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest as a national monument, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, three of whose five members are Republicans, last year objected to Wrightwood, Mt. Baldy, the Baldy ski lodge and Cucamonga Canyon being included within the national monument boundary. Obama accordingly excised those four areas from the monument.
In the case of the San Gabriel National Monument, Obama used the Antiquities Act, first used by President Teddy Roosevelt, to create that monument by executive fiat rather than allowing a congressional bill to work its way through the Republican-majority House of Representatives. What remains to be determined is whether Feinstein can get the Senate and Congress to support her bill or whether she will ultimately rely upon Obama utilizing his executive authority to expand protection of the desert land. There is some question as to whether that approach will work because the Obama Administration has sought to encourage solar energy project development in the desert.

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