Youth groups from Latino churches visit the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. (Hispanic Access Foundation)

Youth groups from Latino churches visit the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. (Hispanic Access Foundation)

A large group of California religious leaders released a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, asking him to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to create three new national monuments in the southern California desert.

One hundred Latino church leaders from the Assemblies of God Southern Pacific District sent the letter, which urges creation of the Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow national monuments. The Rev. Jesse Villarreal of Templo la Hermosa in Coachella said local churches often take youth groups on hikes to these proposed monuments because they are part of God’s gift to humanity.

“It’s a place to relax, to pray, to connect with God and enjoy his beauties and see God through the hands of his creation,” Villarreal said. “It’s a place where you can meditate on God’s power.”

Supporters of the monuments say the area is threatened by proposals to export groundwater from desert aquifers, and from air pollution, rapid community development and encroachments from renewable-energy projects.

Maite Arce, president of the nonprofit Hispanic Access Foundation, said Latinos make up nearly 50 percent of the population in the California desert – so they have an important voice in the protection of public lands.

“These communities really see the importance of these monuments to their heritage, to their community, to future generations, and to their faith,” he said.

The clergy members join a growing list of monument supporters who have written to the president, including historians, veterans, active-duty military, local elected officials, Latino organizations, astronomers and local business owners. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill to establish these national monuments earlier this year, but it has not yet been brought to a vote.

The letter is online at hispanicaccess.org.

Source: Public News Service, 10/15/2015