The Campaign for the California Desert today thanked Congress and the President for safeguarding nearly 500,000 acres of public land in southeastern California, protecting sensitive water resources, fragile wildlife habitat, recreation, and historic trails that drive tourism essential to the region’s economy. The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act became law as was part of a package of public lands bills–the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act–which the President signed into law today.

“This legislation is a huge win for conservation,” said Geary Hund, Executive Director, Mojave Desert Land Trust. “It ensures that some of the most important natural and cultural resources in the Mojave Desert will be protected and connected in perpetuity. It contributes to the creation of an interconnected system of reserves including Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave Trails National Monument, and the Mojave National Preserve. These areas are critically important to maintaining the health of desert ecosystems and more specifically, they are important to iconic desert species such as desert tortoise and bighorn sheep.”

The California Desert measure, introduced as S. 67 and H.R. 376, designates 375,500 acres of wilderness and more than 70 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and adds 43,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks. The bill, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both (D-CA), and Representatives Paul Cook (R-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), establishes the 81,800-acre Vinagre Wash Special Management Area in Imperial County to protect ecologically sensitive areas and Native American heritage sites. It also designates the 18,840-acre Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in Inyo County for continued recreational use.

“After many years of persistence, we are excited to see the cooperation and hard work of local stakeholders finally coming to fruition with the designation of the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area” said Matt Kingsley, 5th District – Inyo County Supervisor, “This bill recognizes the unique character of the Alabama Hills but also preserves the many activities of locals and visitors alike.”

“It’s great that the Whitewater River is receiving more protection,” said Pastora Mylene Feo, Pastora of ARTE Community Church, Baldwin Park. “We need to protect this place, because so many people depend on the river’s resources and enjoy its beauty.”

The signing of this bill into law is the culmination of a decades-long effort by Sen. Feinstein, along with other members of the congressional delegation, who worked with elected officials, business owners, veterans, local faith leaders, sportsmen, historians, conservationists and others to protect this unique landscape and preserve our desert heritage for future generations.

Barbara Durham, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, thanked Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Paul Cook for their “persistence and leadership” in getting the bill passed. “This bill is important to the Timbisha people because it gives us peace of mind to know that more of our ancestral lands and sacred sites are finally going to receive the permanent protection that they deserve.”

Passage of the California Desert Protection and Conservation Act will boost the local economy.  Visitors from across the country and around the globe come to explore and enjoy the California Desert’s outstanding hiking, camping, and other outdoor recreation opportunities. The Outdoor Industry Association Found that outdoor recreation in California generates $92 billion in consumer spending, 691,000 jobs, $30.4 billion in wages and salaries and $6.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.

“On behalf of veterans across California, Vet Voice Foundation is gratified to see President Trump sign this public lands package,” said Vet Voice Foundation’s California State Director and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Kate Hoit. “As a veteran working in California to protect our lands, I know these protections and expansions are crucial to veteran reintegration. We rely on these public lands to reconnect with our loved ones and communities when we return home.”

By making conservation of public lands in the California desert a priority, the 116th Congress has contributed to an extraordinary American legacy of protected public lands that will be enjoyed and appreciated for generations to come.

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