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Senator Dianne Feinstein has asked President Obama to enact the Antiquities Act and create three National Monuments in the California Desert. 

The California desert is a place of great beauty with unique natural features. Residents and tourists are drawn to the three national parks – Mojave Preserve, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree National Park. All three provide recreational opportunities, unpolluted night skies, vast space, outstanding vistas, and cultural and historic landmarks as well as economic resources. This area is also crucial to the fragile ecological health of the area.

But the California Desert is at risk of losing its unprotected areas to development.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposed 2008 legislation to protect the California desert – waterways, wilderness, and river segments, has been stalled in Congress for years. The fight has been going on despite a large, diverse support base, which includes conservation groups, off-road groups, counties, cities, energy companies, water districts, business groups, individuals, and Native American Tribes. Due to increasing urbanization, encroaching industrial development, and climate change, there is a pressing need to protect our public lands.

Senator Feinstein has now asked President Obama to enact the Antiquities Act and create three National Monuments.

The first proposed monument is Sand to Snow, 135,000 acres that start on the western edge of the Joshua Tree National Park and extend to the high peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains, including Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. This land would be managed by the forest service and the BLM collectively and would respect all private property rights that currently exist.

“Sand and Snow is a particularly important connective tissue between the Joshua Tree National Park and the higher snowcapped peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains,” said Seth Shteir, Program Manager for the National Park Conservation Association. “It is particularly important considering climate change that animals have the room to roam to find food, shelter, mates, water, and suitable habitat.”

Karen Lowe, a Morongo Valley resident, said, “I am a local Real Estate Agent, an avid equestrian, and a member of the Morongo Valley Chamber of Commerce. I think, from a conservation perspective of our wildlands, from a property value perspective, a local perspective and beauty perspective, that the Sand to Snow Monument would be excellent for Morongo Valley and the Morongo Basin.”

The second proposal will make Mojave Trails, approximately 1 million acres of land, a National Monument. Mojave Trails runs along Route 66 – what John Steinbeck called “The Mother Road,” a historical and cultural resource that can generate a tremendous amount of economic benefit for the neighboring areas. Mojave Trails is also a wildlife corridor that links Joshua Tree National Park, the Marine Air Ground Combat Center, and the Mojave National Preserve.

The third proposal is to designate Castle Mountain as a national monument. Managed by the National Parks Service, it is cut out along the Nevada border and is surrounded on three sides by the Mojave Preserve. Castle Mountain was in the original 1994 California Desert Protection Act but removed because of gold mining in the area.

Castle Mountain is a high desert grassland. It provides critical habitat for the desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, golden eagles, Swainson’s hawks, desert tortoise, Gila monsters, prairie falcons, Bendire’s Thrashers, grey vireo, Townsend big-eared bats and California leaf-nosed bats. Additionally, state and federal agencies are studying the possibility of reintroducing prong-horned antelope, the second-fastest land animal in the world, back into the area.

Castle Mountain is home to the historic mining town of Hart and has a view of Spirit Mountain, a sacred Native American site.

“We at the National Parks Conservation Association believe the new National Monuments will enhance the national economy, provide new recreational opportunities, raise the profile of the California desert as a destination for tourism and attract visitors from around the globe,” said Shteir, “We have to remember,” added Shteir, “Our parks are not biologically isolated islands. To protect species, you have to protect the core area. These lands [Sand and Snow, Mojave Trails and Castle Mountain] deserve designations that recognize their scenic, ecological, cultural, and economic importance.”

Afton Canyon
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