Regional Leaders Applaud Feinstein Effort to Protect California’s Spectacular Desert Heritage for Future Generations

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By Staff Reports

(Victor Valley)– Community, business and conservation leaders from the California desert region are applauding legislation introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) that would increase protections for approximately 1.6 million acres of desert landscapes. These areas are an important part of America’s natural and cultural heritage, contribute to the regional economy, and are a shared resource that the public enjoys through outdoor recreation activities. Local leaders also urged area Members of Congress to support the legislation. The legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (CA).

The proposed legislation, the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015, would establish two new national monuments—the Mojave Trails and the Sand to Snow National Monuments—and expand Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve. It would also designate several new wilderness areas, help protect important waterways like the Amargosa River and Deep Creek as Wild and Scenic Rivers, and establish the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area.

A Natural and Cultural Treasure

From painted mountains to hidden springs, from world-famous wildflowers to herds of majestic bighorn sheep, Americans and international visitors have long been drawn to the stark beauty of California’s desert. The legislation introduced by Sen. Feinstein provides a historic opportunity to protect California’s spectacular desert heritage for future generations.

“The conservation of the California desert honors our past and also recognizes the importance of these lands for future generations,” stated Barbara Durham, Tribal Preservation Officer of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. “The desert includes trails and sacred spaces that are part of Native American heritage. This bill will help protect those important places.”

“As a combat veteran of the United States Armed Forces, I appreciate the California desert as a place for relaxation and peace,” said Carlos Castaño, veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a

Coachella Valley resident. “I’ve spent time in the desert with other veterans. That time affirmed for me the importance of protecting and preserving these special lands.”

Among the other historic treasures that would be protected is Route 66, which Smithsonian Magazine named as one of the ‘10 Must-See Endangered Cultural Treasures’ and which is a magnet for tourists wanting to relive California’s pioneering past.

“Route 66 is part of our American experience and history – set against the unique backdrop of the desert,” said Jim Conkle, Chair of the Route 66 Alliance. “Protecting that part of our history is about connecting to the past, but also about investing in the future and bringing visitors to the area.”

Amongst the public lands that would be protected by the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 are approximately 200,000 acres of formerly private lands that were acquired by The Wildlands Conservancy with a mix of private and public conservation funding. These lands were transferred to the U.S. Department of Interior to be managed for recreation, habitat and cultural resource protection, and other conservation purposes. Sen. Feinstein’s legislation would ensure that this intent is abided by.

An Economic Boost

The California desert is one of the top outdoor recreation locations in the United States and its national parks alone bring nearly three million visitors each year. In San Bernardino County, visitors generated $52.5 million in local tax receipts in 2010, providing much needed revenue to the county and cities. In 2013, visitors to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve alone contribute $165 million to the region’s economy, supporting nearly two thousand jobs.

James Ramos, Third District Supervisor, San Bernardino County, said, “The California desert lands are important to our community’s quality of life and to our local economy. This legislation will help ensure that this legacy is protected for future generations.”

“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 am glad to see the introduction of the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act,” added Susan Sorrells, owner and operator of Shoshone Village, a desert community and tourism destination. “Our region’s economy depends on tourism, scientific study and outdoor recreational activities that take place in our unique and beautiful desert. So protecting these lands is an investment in our area’s economic future.”

“The California desert is at the heart of our region’s economic strategy,” said Thomas Fjallstam, President, Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce. “Visitors come to see the striking landscapes,

magnificent Joshua tree forests, and the diverse animal life that fills the desert. We must protect this resource as a vital part of financial and cultural well-being.”

“The California desert is a one of a kind place, welcoming people for all sorts of outdoor activities that contribute to the local economy,” Randy Banis, Public-at-large Representative to the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert District Advisory Council and Editor of the DeathValley.com. “This legislation is a balanced approach that will allow responsible access for these activities, including off-road vehicle use, and will protect the desert for generations to come.”

This bill also represents a unique opportunity for California to protect its most important and sensitive desert areas, while leaving available suitable lands for renewable energy development. None of the areas proposed for protection under the CDCRA are amongst the 150,000 acres already identified by the Department of the Interior for potential solar development in the California desert. In addition, none of the CDCRA areas are amongst the millions of acres being considered for renewable energy development under the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

The Campaign for the California Desert is a coalition of conservation groups, community leaders and businesses dedicated to protecting our desert landscapes, celebrated both for their contributions to America’s natural and cultural heritage and to the regional economy. For more information, visit www.CaliforniaDesert.org. For photos of California desert landscapes quoted in this release, click here.

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