President’s designation honors community vision for public lands to preserve spectacular desert landscapes and recreational uses
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined hundreds of community members and local leaders to celebrate the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains National Monuments, which were designated by President Obama earlier this year. Located in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, about one hour from the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and one hour from the Las Vegas metropolitan area, the three desert monuments protect nearly 2 million acres of spectacular landscapes, fragile wildlife habitat, unique historic resources, and important cultural sites.
The community celebration, hosted by The Wildlands Conservancy, took place at the Whitewater Preserve, a recreation area near Palm Springs and a gateway to the Sand to Snow Monument. Secretary Jewell was joined by U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz, San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Jody Norion and other representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos, and local business, faith and community leaders.
“A decades-long campaign, led by Senator Feinstein with help from many Congressional leaders, stakeholders, and local leaders, paved the way for President Obama to preserve these spectacular desert landscapes and recreational uses for generations to come,” Secretary Jewell said. “Thanks to their collective vision, leadership and tenacity, our children, grandchildren, and their grandchildren will have the opportunity to know and love these places as we do.”
The monuments are the result of nearly two decades of leadership by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who drafted legislation to protect the special places of the California desert. In October 2015, senior Administration officials visited Palm Springs, at the senator’s invitation to hear from the community about its vision for conservation in the California desert. Supporters of protecting these areas include local counties and cities, area business groups, tribes, hunters, anglers, faith-based organizations, recreationists, local land trusts and conservation groups, and students from local schools.
“The designation of three monuments in the Mojave Desert—Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains—is the capstone to our desert conservation efforts,” Senator Feinstein said. “I’m especially proud of the diverse coalition we brought together on this issue. These monuments, covering 1.8 million acres, encompass majestic mountain views, iconic endangered species like the bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, historic tribal cultural resources and striking vegetation like the Joshua trees and spring wildflowers. There’s still work to be done on related recreation and conservation provisions, but today these new monuments are truly a testament to how much we can accomplish when we bring stakeholders together and achieve consensus.”
The three designations connect Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino National Forest, and fifteen wilderness areas previously designated by Congress, creating a series of protected lands stretching hundreds of miles. The monuments protect all current uses of the land, including military training operations, off-highway vehicle recreation, transportation, utility corridors and existing mining operations.
The national monuments, comprised exclusively of existing federal lands, will be managed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. The proclamations direct the agencies to engage the public in comprehensive planning for the management of these areas, building upon the provisions outlined in the proclamations.
“Community-led efforts have brought people together in a powerful way to protect public lands of great ecological and cultural significance,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Sand to Snow National Monument contains part of the San Bernardino National Forest, provides critical habitat for migratory birds as they adapt to a changing climate, and includes the San Gorgonio Mountain, which is sacred ground for several tribal communities. These new monuments represent a renewed commitment to conserving and protecting our natural resources- and preserving our cultural heritage- for the benefit of all Americans.”
The Sand to Snow National Monument encompasses approximately 154,000 acres of federal lands, including just over 100,000 acres of already Congressionally-designated wilderness east of Los Angeles and will be managed jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Rising from the floor of the Sonoran Desert to San Gorgonio Peak, the tallest in Southern California, the monument includes lush desert oases, significant archeological sites, and thirty miles of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail. The area is a favorite for camping, hiking, hunting, horseback riding, photography, wildlife viewing, and even skiing. The area is renowned for its rich diversity of rare and fragile wildlife and is one of the most biodiverse areas in Southern California.
The Mojave Trails National Monument spans 1.6 million acres of federal lands, including more than 350,000 acres of already Congressionally-designated wilderness, managed by the Bureau of Land Management between Barstow and Needles, Calif. It is a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes. The monument contains the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66 and some of the best preserved sites from the World War II-era Desert Training Center. Connecting the Mojave National Preserve with Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave Trails National Monument ensures the biological connectivity of this landscape while preserving traditional uses such hunting and off-highway vehicle recreation.
The Castle Mountains National Monument consists of approximately 21,000 acres of federal land surrounded by the existing Mojave National Preserve and will be managed by the National Park Service. An integral piece of the Mojave Desert, the area has important flora, fauna, water, and historic resources, and its designation as a national monument helps to preserve related resources set aside for protection in the Preserve. The monument has some of the finest Joshua tree forest and native desert grassland in the Mojave Desert and contains important cultural resources including Native American archeological sites and vestiges of mining, ranching, and the railroad from the period of western expansion.
President Obama has designated twenty-three national monuments under the Antiquities Act, an authority exercised by sixteen presidents starting with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and used to protect treasures such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients. Last month, the president designated Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument formerly the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, permanently protecting the site that became emblematic of the mission to advance women’s rights throughout the 20th century. President Obama has protected more than 265 million acres of public lands and waters – more than any other President – and has preserved sites that help tell the story of significant people and extraordinary events in American history.