I am a student at Silverado High School, in Victorville, and soon I will be part of the generation deciding the policies that will affect our community, our desert, and our quality of life. In the meantime, I want to make sure that my future includes public lands in the California desert, like Mojave Trails National Monument, that have the protections they deserve to remain as they are today: vast, rugged, open and beautiful.

I grew up gardening with my dad, which instilled an early appreciation for nature, and worked with my sister in the Arboretum at Cal State Fullerton. Coming from Los Angeles, where access to wide-open space is hard to come by, I enjoyed being able to spend some time outdoors with my family.

Living in Victorville has given me a new perspective of the outdoors. We are so lucky to have a vast natural landscape right outside our doors that belongs to us; these are our public lands. Yet it is all too easy to take these lands for granted.

Will we look back and lament how much of our desert we’ve lost — wild flowers, beautiful views, vast open space, ancient plants, and million-yearold fossils? Or will we get to build on a legacy of preserving the desert with care and foresight?

That is why I support the call for the creation of new national monuments in the desert to preserve these special places for our families and our future, and I was excited to attend Senator Dianne Feinstein’s public meeting about the national monuments in October. I was eager to make my voice heard and to know that our leaders are listening.

Recently, the Victorville City Council also listened when it decided not to take a position on Congressman Paul Cook’s proposed California Mining, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act. That bill would not establish the Mojave Trails National Monument or ensure protections for historic Route 66.

Instead, it would leave many of our deserts’ unique cultural, historic, and biological treasures susceptible to impacts from development, and make it more difficult to enjoy the kinds of recreational opportunities that a national monument designation would protect. I want these places protected for people to visit and enjoy for generations to come.

Thanks to my Advanced Placement Government class, I know that it’s up to Congress now to resolve the differences between Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Recreation and Conservation Act and Congressman Cook’s bill. If our local leaders want Congress to work, and do what’s best for the desert, they should support both Feinstein’s and Cook’s bills or take no position on either. By treating both bills equally our community can send the message that protecting the desert is about working together to do the right thing.

Thousands of kids grow up surrounded by concrete and only see nature on TV. But the desert is special for families like mine because we can have a better life surrounded by nature.
Places like the Mojave Trails National Monument allow us to explore, connect, and be inspired.
For me, this is where I hike and camp with my family, draw and paint the sunsets, and learn that I have a voice that can make a difference.

Ashley Morua is a senior at Silverado High School in Victorville.

Source: Victorville Daily Press, 12/16/15