Last week, President Barack Obama designated three new national monuments in Southern California deserts. The new monuments are Mojave Trails National Monument, Castle Mountains National Monument and the Sand to Snow National Monument, which is in Riverside County.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has advocated protection for these lands for several years. A year ago, she introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 to achieve these national monument designations.
In August, after realizing that neither the Senate nor House of Representatives were likely to enact the bill, Feinstein wrote Obama.
In her letter, she asked him to use his “authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate three national monuments in the California desert …”
In October, Feinstein hosted a public meeting on the proposed designations. Hundreds attended, including many administration officials and local elected representatives, including Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz.
On Friday, Feb. 12, the president signed three proclamations, Each was devoted to the designation of one of the monuments. Collectively, about 1.8 million desert acres were protected.
“The effort to preserve the California desert has been a long one, and today is a major milestone. Since we passed the 1994 desert conservation bill, we’ve tried to build on its legacy,” Feinstein said in a press release after the president’s announcement.
“This kind of landscape is so much a part of what the West once was, and these monuments are icons of our cultural heritage. Simply put, the California desert is a national treasure. This designation only reaffirms that fact,” she said.
The Sand to Snow National Monument connects the San Bernardino National Forest and Joshua Tree National Park. It encompasses about 154,000 acres, of which about 100,000 acres have already been designated as Congressional wilderness areas. The monument includes features such as the Big Morongo Canyon, Whitewater Canyon and the Black Lava Buttes. From San Gorgonio Mountain on its western edge, the monument falls nearly 10,000 feet to the Sonoran Desert on the east. It also includes 30 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management will jointly manage the monument. The Forest Service will be responsible for the land within the San Bernardino National Forest, and BLM will oversee the rest.
The Mojave Trails National Monument, encompassing nearly 1.6 million acres, of which more than 350,000 is already wilderness designated, is the largest of the three. The Castle Mountain National Monument is 20,920 acres and the smallest.
“California’s deserts include some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation, and serve as a refuge for some of the most rare and endangered plants and animals,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release.
In her release, Feinstein also announced her intention to submit legislation to address several issues, which Obama could not through the proclamations. One of the areas she will support for is protection of five Off-Highway Recreation Areas covering about 142,000 acres.
“Off-roaders were a vital part of the coalition we put together, and, unfortunately, those lands could not be designated under executive action,” Feinstein said in the release. “Off-roaders deserve certainty about their future use of the land, just as there is now certainty for conservation purposes.”
“These national monuments will play a vital role in the long-term sustainability and health of the region, and the protection of our beautiful, diverse deserts,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association.
Hill residents are familiar with national monuments. The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is within miles east and south of Idyllwild.
Not all were pleased with Obama’s actions. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a release, “This is presidential bullying. The intent of the Antiquities Act is not to act as the president’s magic wand to commandeer land. In order to be good stewards of our environment, we need to allow people to have a say in how they recreate and conserve their land. This doesn’t …”