Dianne Feinstein proposes California national monuments

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Piece by piece, filling in the Wildlands Network, and closing off America to Americans


Sen. Dianne Fein­stein relaunched a pro­pos­al to cre­ate two nation­al mon­u­ments on more than 1 mil­lion acres across the Cal­i­for­nia desert, say­ing her revised bill would set aside sev­er­al areas for off-road vehi­cles and ener­gy projects while pre­serv­ing oth­er areas as pris­tine wilderness.

Fein­stein released a draft of the bill Thurs­day while vis­it­ing the White­wa­ter Pre­serve for a lunch cel­e­brat­ing the 20th anniver­sary of the Cal­i­for­nia Desert Pro­tec­tion Act. That 1994 law, which Fein­stein also intro­duced, turned Joshua Tree and Death Val­ley nation­al mon­u­ments into nation­al parks and cre­at­ed the Mojave Nation­al Preserve.

Her new bill, the Cal­i­for­nia Desert Con­ser­va­tion and Recre­ation Act, would estab­lish the Sand to Snow Nation­al Mon­u­ment, stretch­ing from near Joshua Tree Nation­al Park to Mt. San Gor­gonio, as well as the Mojave Trails Nation­al Mon­u­ment, between Joshua Tree and the Mojave Pre­serve, includ­ing a his­toric stretch along scenic Route 66. Fein­stein said she will intro­duce the bill at the start of the new Sen­ate ses­sion in January.

This desert bill has tak­en six years and two pri­or drafts to get where we are today,” Fein­stein told an audi­ence of more than 200 peo­ple. “We are look­ing to save this great desert.”

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor’s bill also would estab­lish five new wilder­ness areas on 235,000 acres of Bureau of Land Man­age­ment lands, while adding 39,000 acres to Death Val­ley Nation­al Park and 4,500 acres to Joshua Tree Nation­al Park.

The bill would des­ig­nate four off-high­way vehi­cle areas as per­ma­nent OHV recre­ation areas. Among oth­er things, the leg­is­la­tion also would order the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or to trade 370,000 acres of fed­er­al land for state land, allow­ing the state to use those areas for pur­pos­es includ­ing renew­able ener­gy projects.

The leg­is­la­tion is an updat­ed ver­sion of a bill that Fein­stein has been pro­mot­ing since 2009. The new ver­sion includes mod­i­fi­ca­tions that were made in an effort to boost sup­port among lawmakers.

This is the final cam­paign, and it’s not going to be easy. Bills don’t pass today, and they take years, so I’m real­ly going to need your help,” Fein­stein told the group, which includ­ed lead­ers of con­ser­va­tion groups as well as coun­ty and city offi­cials from River­side and San Bernardi­no counties.

I need your phone calls. I need you com­ing back to Wash­ing­ton. I need you to be at the com­mit­tee hear­ings,” Fein­stein said. “If we can work out bipar­ti­san spon­sor­ship in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, we have a good chance to get this bill passed, I hope, with­in the next two years.”

Fel­low Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gress­man Raul Ruiz pledged to help in the House, as did Red­lands May­or Pete Aguilar, who won a con­gres­sion­al seat this week.

There’s a lot of dif­fi­cult things that we get accom­plished, and I’m look­ing for­ward to mak­ing this one of them,” Ruiz said. “This bill would def­i­nite­ly help us bring more tourism and more out­door recre­ation­al­ists to our desert to real­ly enjoy our pris­tine environment.”

It’s not clear how the Repub­li­can swing in Con­gress might affect Fein­stein’s plans.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has recent­ly used his author­i­ty under the Antiq­ui­ties Act to estab­lish oth­er nation­al mon­u­ments, includ­ing the new­ly cre­at­ed San Gabriel Moun­tains Nation­al Mon­u­ment. Fein­stein acknowl­edged that could be one approach as a “last-ditch effort” if nec­es­sary. But she said such a pro­ce­dure would make pos­si­ble only por­tions of what her bill would accomplish.

The prob­lem is you lose a lot that you could do in a bill that you can’t do in a mon­u­ment,” Fein­stein said. She said those mea­sures that can only be accom­plished with a bill would include the per­ma­nent off-road vehi­cle areas and the des­ig­na­tion of about 6,500 acres near Joshua Tree Nation­al Park as an “area of crit­i­cal envi­ron­men­tal con­cern” to pre­serve about 1,700 pet­ro­glyphs, among oth­er things.

Fein­stein spoke under a tent among cot­ton­wood trees at the White­wa­ter Pre­serve, which is man­aged by The Wild­lands Conservancy.

After her speech, Fein­stein cut a cake to mark the 20th anniver­sary of the Cal­i­for­nia Desert Pro­tec­tion Act, which she has called one of her proud­est leg­isla­tive accomplishments.

While rec­og­niz­ing those who helped, Fein­stein paid trib­ute to the late Elden Hugh­es, who cham­pi­oned the bill as a leader of the Sier­ra Club. She recalled how Hugh­es and his wife, Pat­ty, brought desert tor­tois­es to Wash­ing­ton to ral­ly sup­port for the bill.

There was Elden with two big desert tor­tois­es,” Fein­stein said. “I think the tor­tois­es and the Hugh­es fam­i­ly brought a few votes to us, so thank you.”

Hugh­es’ wid­ow brought some tor­tois­es on Thurs­day to show the senator.

David Scott, pres­i­dent of the Sier­ra Club, praised the pro­pos­al to estab­lish new nation­al monuments.

We need to do a lot more,” Scott said. “We love to see the max­i­mum amount of pro­tec­tion that we can get for this frag­ile habi­tat here in the desert.”

Hav­ing the sta­tus of nation­al mon­u­ments would height­en the lev­el of pro­tec­tion for areas that are home to a rich vari­ety of plants and ani­mals rang­ing from bob­cats to desert spiny lizards.

If Fein­stein is able to cham­pi­on that and is able to bring peo­ple over to her side and get that actu­al­ly passed, it will be shin­ing gem in her accom­plish­ments,” said Paula Tay­lor of Oak Glen, a sup­port­er of The Wild­lands Con­ser­van­cy. “Sure, there are obsta­cles. But there are always ways to put these kinds of dif­fi­cult things togeth­er. If any­body can do it, she can.”