President Obama has permanently protected three new national monuments in the California desert. This move will preserve over 1.8 million acres of land as monuments, helping to safeguard wildlife and communities from climate change and guaranteeing continued public access to these places for generations to come.
“The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of southern California,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a statement. “It is an oasis of nature’s quiet beauty just outside two of our nation’s largest metropolitan areas.”
Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains are the 20th, 21st, and 22nd national monuments that have been created or expanded under President Obama, adding up to a total of 3.5 million acres of new protections for public lands. Both Democratic and Republican presidents have used their authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments, many of which have later become some of America’s most iconic national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Zion National Park. This being Obama’s largest designation to date is a meaningful moment in the National Park’s centennial year.
Designated monuments permanently protect naturally, culturally, or historically significant land for public access, recreation, and wildlife as well as existing uses such as energy development, military training, transportation, and livestock grazing.
The monuments, which California Senator Diane Feinstein has attempted to protect through Congress for years, are strongly supported by local elected officials, business owners, Native Americans, veterans, Latino organizations, faith leaders, sportsmen, and conservationists. An overwhelming majority of Californians (75 percent) and desert region residents (70 percent) also support the President protecting these lands as national monuments, according to a recent poll.
CREDIT: David Lamfrom
“Our community offered bipartisan and strong support for the designation of the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments and we’re thrilled to see these places permanently protected.” Said Stan Henry, mayor of Cathedral City and Chairman of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. “Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Senator Feinstein, these Monuments will allow future generations to explore and enjoy the beauty of the desert for years to come. That’s a legacy we can be proud of and one that will be good for our quality of life and our economy.”
The Mojave Trails monument, spanning 1.6 million acres, is the largest of the three designations. The monument links Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National preserve, connecting and protecting the distinct landscape, as well as important habitat for desert bighorn sheep and desert tortoise. The new monument includes the longest undeveloped stretch of historic Route 66, a significant landmark of the American West, a 550 million year old trilobite fossil bed, and Amboy Crater, North America’s youngest volcano.
Also connected to the Mojave National preserve, Castle Mountains monument includes diverse landscapes, the historic gold mining ghost town of Hart, and vast Native American archeological sites.
Sand to Snow monument stretches from the Sonoran Desert to Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s tallest alpine mountain. It also includes 25 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, a popular hiking destination which runs from Canada to Mexico.
CREDIT: Frazier Haney
“President Obama has taken a step forward to preserve not only the beauty of these lands, but also our shared history.” Said Clifford Trafzer, professor and Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs at the University of California Riverside. “Now these places will be better protected against theft and damage of Native American objects and artifacts. With respect and good stewardship, these public lands are repositories of knowledge, just waiting to be understood.”
In addition the cultural and historical significance, all of these new monuments include important habitat for desert wildlife including bighorn sheep, mountain lions, tortoise, and golden eagles. These designations will help these desert species and their communities cope with climate change by preventing fragmentation of vulnerable habitats needed for migration and adaptation.
Public lands in the California desert also have a significant impact on the region’s economy. Current visitors to Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Mojave National Preserve already added $194 million to the region’s economy in 2014 and support over 2,700 jobs. Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments will continue to bring attention and visitors to the area to experience the desert Southwest’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage.
“Protected public lands improve local economies and local businesses benefit greatly from these protections,” said Ruben Guerra, Chairman of the Latin Business Association in Los Angeles. “These national monument designations set the many Latino businesses owners in the region at a higher class of competitiveness as they reap the benefits of increased tourism and attention to the area.”
These designations come as welcome news to the majority of Americans who appreciate and enjoy the cultural, economic, and environmental benefits that our shared public lands provide.
Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland