The Campaign for the California Desert today praised the U.S. Senate for passing a measure that would safeguard nearly 500,000 acres of public land in southeastern California, and urged the House of Representatives to act quickly to pass the bill.

The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2019 (S. 67/H.R. 376) passed the Senate as a part of a package of land conservation bills. The measure would designate 375,500 acres of wilderness and more than 70 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and add 43,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, protecting sensitive water resources, fragile wildlife habitat, recreation, and historic trails that drive tourism essential to the region’s economy.

“The public lands of the California desert draw visitors from around the world, who come to enjoy the area’s wildlife, scenic vistas, and recreation opportunities.” said Kelly Crawford of Joshua Tree Excursions.  “This has created a thriving tourism economy that seems to grow every year as more people discover the desert as a destination. The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act secures this important legacy for residents, businesses, and visitors.”

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both (D-CA), and Representatives Paul Cook (R-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), would establish the 81,800-acre Vinagre Wash Special Management Area in Imperial County to protect ecologically sensitive areas and Native American heritage sites. It would also designate the 18,840-acre Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in Inyo County in recognition of its nationally significant scenic and recreational values.

For more than a decade, Sen. Feinstein, along with other members of the California congressional delegation, has 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.

“As a veteran working to defend our California public lands, I applaud Senator Feinstein’s continued efforts to expand protections for our cherished lands,” said Vet Voice Foundation’s California State Director and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Kate Hoit. “The California Desert legislation will expand wilderness and add thousands of acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks. These expansions are crucial to ensuring veterans have access to our desert lands when they return home.”

“Latinos make up nearly 50 percent of the population in the California desert – we have an important voice in the protection of our public lands, and a critical role to play in encouraging stewardship of our outdoor and cultural heritage,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. “Protecting the California desert is significant to people across many cultures and communities, and it will help strengthen the diverse social fabric of the region.”  

Passage of the California Desert Protection and Conservation Act would also boost the regional economy.  Visitors from across the country and around the globe come to explore and enjoy the California desert’s outstanding camping, rock climbing, hiking, 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.

“Shoshone Village is an oasis on the Amargosa River, one of a string of pearls connecting Mojave National Preserve with Death Valley National Park,” said Shoshone owner Susan Sorrells. “This corridor is essential for the migrating birds and other animals traversing the harsh but beautiful desert. Being good stewards of the land promotes environmental and economic sustainability, and is a practical model for all communities.”

By making conservation of public lands in the California desert a priority, Members of the 116th Congress can add to an extraordinary American legacy of protected public lands that will be enjoyed and appreciated for generations to come. The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) now awaits a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. Community members across California are urging the House to pass the bill.