Over the past fifteen years, hundreds of young people have devoted almost a year of their lives to conservation in the California Desert through AmeriCorps internships with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Many of the areas these volunteers have worked are now proposed for permanent protection as Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments.

Having launched our own careers in conservation, we can attest to the value of these special places, and ask that President Obama designate these areas—along with the Castle Mountains—as national monuments so that future generations can experience the benefit of spending time in the wilds of the California Desert. We are grateful that Senator Dianne Feinstein has had the foresight to request that the President take this action.

One of us, Sam, spent nine months working in the rugged landscapes adjacent to historic Route 66 in the Eastern Mojave Desert- rehabilitating closed routes for the BLM and installing signage to direct users to appropriate recreation areas. This internship was a part of a ten-year effort in the area, which has resulted in a remarkably intact and well managed travel route system.

Additionally, she participated in a spring restoration project at the spectacular Bonanza Spring, removing invasive species and re-routing the springbrook. Ten years hence, the spring is full of native willow and bulrush – a fully restored ecosystem providing vital water for wildlife and a beautiful oasis for visitors.

Carrie spent her time with the BLM in the areas adjacent to the San Gorgonio Wilderness and Joshua Tree National Park. The projects she worked on included rehabilitation of fire lines from the Paradise Fire which burned in the area in 2005, restoring closed routes, and fencing off sensitive riparian areas.

Cold mornings in the desert willow of Little Morongo Canyon would be filled with the distinctive song of phainopepla, an inquisitive black songbird. By spring, our restoration work began bearing fruit: the primitive erosion control structures known as straw wattles which we had installed over the fall and winter collected rainwater and sediment, promoting new growth in areas that had been scraped bare to defend against fire.

As it was for many of our AmeriCorps colleagues, our time in the desert was life-changing. Getting our hands dirty for the planet in such a spectacular and inspiring setting set us both on the path toward careers in conservation. We’ve held several jobs in conservation over the years, from invasive species management on a remote island in the northern Atlantic Ocean to watershed restoration with Native American youth in Canyon de Chelly to evaluating and executing projects that provide clean water in the Pacific Northwest. Both of us try to embody the conservation ethic that we learned in the desert in our everyday lives as we face choices about how to live in harmony with the planet.

The substantial conservation investment made by BLM to host hundreds of interns like us has brought about tangible improvement on the desert, restoring and improving the habitat of these special places. The permanent protection of Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains as national monuments would build upon these investments, giving BLM the tools to manage these landscapes for conservation and enjoyment by our nation’s citizens and visitors from around the world.

Permanently protecting these places will ensure that future generations have unspoiled landscapes to be inspired by. Aldo Leopold said, “I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” By designating these three new national monuments, President Obama can ensure that the California desert remains such a place forever.

—Sam Berst lives in Gainesville, Florida and has built hiking trails from California to Pennsylvania. Carrie Sanneman lives in Portland, Oregon, where she leads the clean water program at a conservation nonprofit.

Source: Victorville Daily Press, 1/5/16