Sunset in Castle Mountains National Monument. Credit: Mason Cumming, Wilderness Society
NewsAuthor: Steven Shaw
With the stroke of pen, President Obama designates three new national monuments in the southern California desert. The massive tract protects nearly 1.8 million acres of our nation’s public lands. For perspective, the monuments preserve an area that is roughly 10 percent larger than the entire state of Delaware. The newly-protected lands continue the president’s strong record of using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve America’s wildlands for future generations. The expansive swath of land links already protected lands, such as Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and fifteen congressionally-designated Wilderness areas.
The designation ends more than a decade of tireless work from a broad coalition of conservation groups, elected officials, local community leaders, business owners and Native American tribes. Conservation organizations such as The Wilderness Society, The Sierra Club, The Wildland Conservancy, National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, The Center for Biological Diversity, Mojave Desert Land Trust and others spent years fighting to protect and connect southern California’s beautiful desertscape.
“Today is the result of years of work from a lot of people to protect the heart of the Mojave Desert.” The Wildlands Conservancy's Executive Director David Myers told TrailMob. For more than a decade, the Wildland Conservancy and private citizens have donated more than 600,000 acres to the Department of Interior anticipating the eventual protection with national monument designations.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein has been the driving force in Washington D.C. for years to establish protection for the area through legislation. Efforts fell on deaf ears in Congress. However, today those efforts came to fruition and Feinstein publicly thanked the president for taking action and acknowledged the difficult process of conservation progress. “The effort to preserve the California desert has been a long one, and today is a major milestone… I’m full of pride and joy knowing that future generations will be able to explore these national monuments and that the land will remain as pristine and as it is today. To a city girl like me, this expanse of desert, with its ruggedness and unique beauty, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.... the California desert is a national treasure. This designation only reaffirms that fact.” Said Senator Feinstein.
“The president is using his power under the Antiquities Act to preserve irreplaceable natural, historical and cultural resources in the region, following the example of nearly every president since Teddy Roosevelt” according to the White House press release.
The newly preserved monuments are Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument.
The Mojave Trails National Monument bridges the gap between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. This new monument is by far the largest of the three designations, spanning 1.6 million acres, more than 350,000 acres of which are previously congressionally-designated Wilderness. “The Mojave Trails National Monument protects a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes.” (White House Press Release).
In addition the monument will protect irreplaceable historical and cultural sites including ancient Native American trading routes, World War II-era training camps, and the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66. Recreation opportunities are seemingly endless. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the Pisgah Lava Flow, Marble Mountain Fossil Beds and many other unique areas. Some other highlights include the Amboy Crater, which is a 250-foot tall volcanic cinder cone that bursts to life with stunning displays for wildflowers each spring. Afton Canyon, or the “Grand Canyon of the Mojave” is also a part of the new monument. The canyon is one of the few places where the Mojave River flows above-ground and creates lush habitat for flora and wildlife.
Sand to Snow National Monument. Credit: Mason Cumming, Wilderness Society
The Sand to Snow National Monument encompasses 154,000 acres, including more than 100,000 acres of already congressionally-designated Wilderness. The protected area preserves a tract of land between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest. The preserve extends from the Sonoran Desert floor to the summit of Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California's tallest alpine peak. “Sand to Snow National Monument is an ecological and cultural treasure and one of the most biodiverse areas in southern California, supporting more than 240 species of birds and twelve threatened and endangered wildlife species.” (White House Press Release)
Mule deer, mountain lions and black bears are among the larger mammals that roam this region. The headwaters of the Santa Ana and Whitewater Rivers and 30 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail are also located within the monument. Outdoor recreation opportunities are abundant, including more than 100 miles of hiking trails, hunting opportunities, camping, horseback riding, photography, skiing and wildlife viewing. Some highlights include the beautiful Whitewater Canyon which is an important wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. Big Morongo Canyon is also included and has been designated a Preserve and Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the Bureau of Land Management. The rugged area of untamed terrain features incredible biodiversity and is one of the places where the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert meet.
The Castle Mountains National Monument encompasses 20,920 acres of crucial wildlife habitat. “The monument will serve as a critical connection between two mountain ranges, protecting water resources, plants, and wildlife such as golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bobcats.” Noted the White House.
In addition, the Castle Mountains National Monument preserves many Native American archeological sites in the Mojave Desert and the remnants of the historical ghost town Hart, which was a fleeting gold mining town in the early 20th century. “The area has also been identified as an ideal reintroduction site for pronghorn antelope, the second-fastest land mammal on earth.” Said the Wilderness Society.
The announcement comes on the heels of a failed attempt in the U.S. Senate to limit the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act to create new monuments. The amendment attached to the Senate energy bill would have gutted the Antiquities Act by making presidential executive actions creating national monuments temporary for three years, and subject to approval by Congress and the state legislature the monument lies within.
The Obama Administration has protected more land and water than any Administration in history, more than 265 million acres. “The President has sought to ensure that all Americans and future generations have the opportunity to experience the natural and cultural richness of our national parks, monuments, forests and other public lands.” (White House Press Release)
The Antiquities of Act is one of the most powerful items in the presidential toolbelt. The president can unilaterally protect an area without congressional approval. The privilege has been used by every president since Theodore Roosevelt with the exception of Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.