Today, California desert communities are celebrating the announcement that President Obama will designate the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments while traveling in the region. National monument status means that these public lands will be permanently protected and that the public can continue to access these places for outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, rock-hounding and more.
“Today is a day for celebration in desert communities,” said Indio Mayor Glenn Miller. “The President is going to designate three new desert national monuments that protect our communities’ history and provide a living legacy for future generations. Senator Feinstein’s leadership and the President’s actions mean that Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments will be available for our children, our grandchildren and visitors from around the world for years to come.”
The designation of the new national monuments had widespread and bipartisan support, with local elected officials and community leaders, business owners, Native Americans, veterans, Latino organizations, faith leaders, sportsmen, historians, artists, conservationists, and others calling for the protection of these unique and special places. A recent poll also showed overwhelming support from the public, with over 75% of California voters statewide and 70% in the desert region in favor of President Obama designating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments.
“As a member of a family which has owned land and operated businesses in the Amargosa and Death Valley area for over 100 years, I’m overjoyed that President Obama will designate these new national monuments,” added Susan Sorrells, owner and operator of Shoshone Village, a desert community and tourism destination. “Our region’s economy depends on tourism and outdoor recreational activities that take place in our unique and beautiful desert. Protecting these lands is a critical investment in our area’s economic future.”
By designating these monuments, President Obama has demonstrated that we can both protect America’s public lands heritage and also grow our economy. Visitors come to Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve from across the country and around the world, spending $194 million in the region and supporting over 2,700 jobs (2014). The region welcomed 3.2 million visitors to the three desert national parks (2014) and almost 4.2 million visitors to areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (2013).
Designating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments puts these places on the map, drawing attention and visitors to the region and enhancing the region’s vital tourism economy. Given this, it comes as no surprise that the designation of these monuments was supported by a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic Mayors and City Councilmembers; the Coachella Valley Association of Governments; the Calimesa, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Morongo Valley, and Route 66 Chambers of Commerce; and over 200 local businesses as well as 17 national outdoor recreation businesses.
These supporters and many others are thanking President Obama for designating the new monuments along with Senator Feinstein for urging the President to act and her years of leadership in California desert conservation. Supporters are also grateful to U.S. Interior Secretary Jewell and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for their support of these monuments.
“On behalf of all 250 KEEN Employees across the country, we are proud to be a part of this coalition of forward thinkers,” said Kirk Richardson, KEEN Effect Executive Director. “The California Desert national monument designations are a testament to steadfast collaboration and of living in favor of the future. Thank you Senator Feinstein, Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and of course, President Obama for protecting the largest desert landscape in the world. What a tremendous legacy and a source of pride for all Americans.”
The Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments will altogether hold approximately 1.8 million acres of public lands, including 450,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress. The Mojave Trails National Monument will encompass more than 1.6 million acres, including 350,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress. The Sand to Snow National Monument will span 154,000 acres, including 100,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress. The Castle Mountains National Monument will hold 20,920 acres of desert landscape.
The Mojave Trails National Monument links the Mojave National Preserve to Joshua Tree National Park and existing Wilderness Areas, and includes vital wildlife habitat, desert vistas and important Native American cultural sites. Sand to Snow offers some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the country, linking the San Gorgonio Wilderness to Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest. Some of the finest Joshua tree, piñon pine, and juniper forests in the desert grow in the Castle Mountains National Monument. Given the exceptional historical, ecological, and geological features found in each area – from Route 66 to the Marble Mountains Fossil Beds to desert tortoise and bighorn sheep habitat – these lands are well-deserving of their new national monument status.
“Along with over 100 historians, archaeologists, and other experts, I enthusiastically welcome the designation of the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains National Monuments,” said Dr. Clifford E. Trafzer, Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs, University of California, Riverside. “President Obama has taken a step forward to preserve not only the beauty of these lands, but also our shared history. 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.”
“This is a historic moment for the Mojave Desert,” said Dr. Jim Andre, Director of the University of California’s Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. “Designation of these national monuments provides us with the opportunity to ensure permanent protection of critical habitat for thousands of species of plants and animals, including the iconic bighorn sheep and desert tortoise. At a time when our deserts face increasing threats from climate change and fragmentation from development, we must act now to protect sufficient habitat and ecological linkages vital for the long-term sustainability of native desert biodiversity.”
The protection of these national monuments comes after nearly a decade of work by local leaders to protect the California desert. Last year, Senator Feinstein called on President Obama to designate the national monuments, building on years of effort to pass legislation to protect these places. Given Congress’ track record of inaction, the Senator and local community leaders and advocates pursued a dual track approach of both advocating for legislation and urging President Obama to take action. In doing so, the president followed in the footsteps of nearly every president since 1906 – 8 Republicans and 8 Democrats – who used the Antiquities Act over 140 times to protect special places large and small, including Joshua Tree and Death Valley.