Glimmer of Hope for the Desert Bill

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would combine several land and water conservation bills into one package--called an omnibus bill--and putting it up for a vote before Congress concludes business at the end of the year.  Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010, S. 2921) could be a part of the omnibus bill.  If CDPA 2010 is not included, or if the omnibus bill never materializes, the proposed National Monuments in California's Mojave and Sonoran deserts may never receive protected status.

As a recap for those not familiar with the bill,  CDPA 2010 would balance conservation of natural areas and preservation of recreation opportunities by establishing:
  • Mojave Trails National Monument: 941,413 acres of Mojave Desert along Historic Route 66 and the southern boundary of the Mojave National Preserve.  Many of the valleys in this area were proposed for industrial development, and could still be vulnerable to destructive uses if the legislation does not pass.
  • Sand to Snow National Monument:  133,524 acres of habitat connecting desert habitat adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park and wilderness in the high country of San Bernardino National Forest.
  • Additional or expanded wilderness: 346,108 acres of new wilderness areas or additional acreage for existing wilderness areas.  Much of the new or added wilderness would be in the northern Mojave Desert. The western Mojave and northern Colorado Desert region (part of the Sonoran Desert) would not see many new protections.
  • Recreation areas: The bill would legislatively designate five off-highway vehicle (OHV) use areas, all in the Mojave Desert.  As a compromise for designating land within proposed monuments or wilderness areas as off-limits to OHV, the legislation would secure off-road enthusiasts' access to several large parcels of land.

CA Desert Protection Act Map

CDPA 2010 was introduced by Feinstein in December 2009, but Congress had other priorities this year and has very few environmental accomplishments to boast about.  An omnibus lands bill would probably be the hallmark environmental achievement for the 2009-2010 Congress, if it can make it through in the next week or two.  The problem is that the omnibus bill is not even on the Senate calendar yet, and it would have to also pass the House without getting caught up in negotiations.  For this to happen, the House would need to pass it with a 2/3 vote, which is not a sure bet. 

California's deserts are badly in need of extra protection, as energy development is likely to destroy hundreds of square miles of pristine desert over the next few years.  The BLM approved over 40 square miles of solar energy projects in California this year alone.   The new monuments and wilderness could help protect vital wildlife corridors and outdoor recreation areas that will otherwise be lost to big energy companies.

If you have the time to spare, e-mail or call your Senate and House representatives to encourage them to pass an omnibus lands bill that includes the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, designated as S.2921.

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