Senator Feinstein reintroduced the California Desert Protection Act (CDPA 2011, S.138) this month, a necessary step in order to put the legislation back in motion after Congress adjourned last year without putting the 2010 version of the bill (CDPA 2010, S.2921) to a vote. CDPA 2011 is mostly identical to last year's legislation, except that Senator Feinstein removed provisions seeking to streamline the permitting process for utility-scale solar energy projects, a process she has previously criticized, in particular because she believed projects should be sited on already-disturbed or private land.
CDPA 2011 will create the much needed Mojave Trails National Monument (941,000 acres), and the Sand to Snow National Monument (134,000 acres), and set aside new wilderness areas throughout the Mojave Desert. The bill would also add land to Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Death Valley National Park. One of Senator Feinstein's motivations in proposing the legislation was to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of land donated to the Federal government for conservation purposes. The Department of the Interior has considered allowing destructive solar energy development on these lands, dishonoring the donors.
Perhaps indicative of difficult times ahead for conservation legislation, Senator Feinstein included provisions in the legislation that provide compromises for energy companies and off-road vehicle enthusiasts that could undermine the intent to conserve desert ecosystems for future generations. The bill would permanently create 5 off-road vehicle recreation areas, mostly in the Mojave Desert, and would permit some off-road vehicle use on designated routes in"special management areas". Management of the two new national monuments would also permit construction of new transmission lines through existing energy corridors on the land. The bill's compromises leave open the potential for destructive and intensive uses in the new monuments, off-road vehicle areas, and special management areas. Without a scientifically-based management plan and adequate enforcement, these provisions could reverse the ultimate intent of the legislation -- to preserve the land for future generations.
Without the legislation, however, over a million acres of Mojave Desert ecosystem would still be susceptible to solar energy companies, which threaten to fragment and industrialize vast expanses of California's open space.