Three Crucial Desert Regions in California Gain Monument Status

Leveraging the Antiquities Act, President Obama sets aside 1.8 million acres of desert habitat, protecting them from mining and other development.

Today, President Obama designated three new national monuments in California, creating the second-largest desert preserve in the world. The three sites cover almost 2 million acres of prime desert habitat, and are adjacent to the San Bernadino National Forest, Joshua Tree National Park, and Mojave National Preserve. Under the designation, the monuments, named Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, and Castle Mountains, will be made off limits to existing mining operations, off-highway vehicles, utilities, and other types of development.

The Washington Post has a good summary of Obama’s respectable record of declaring precious natural spaces off limits to development.

Obama has unilaterally protected more than 260 million acres of America’s lands and waters under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the president wide latitude to safeguard at-risk federal lands that have cultural, historic or scientific value.

The Los Angeles Times focuses on this particular designation, tracing the history of conservation in the area and the actions state lawmakers have taken to protect the lands.

"The effort to preserve the California desert has been a long one, and today is a major milestone," [U.S. senator Dianne] Feinstein said. "This kind of landscape is so much a part of what the West once was, and these monuments are icons of our cultural heritage. Simply put, the California desert is a national treasure. This designation only reaffirms that fact."

The Prairie Falcon is one of many birds that stands to benefit from the listing. Photo: Peter Knoot/Audubon Photography Awards

Audubon California also supports the President’s actions, stating:

“California’s deserts are natural treasures right alongside our beaches and mountains, full of remarkable vistas, birds and other wildlife,” said Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack. “These desert habitats are worth fighting for – and I want to thank Sen. Feinstein for her tireless advocacy on behalf of California deserts, and the President for recognizing that they need to be protected.”

Many species will benefit from protecting these deserts, including the Elf Owl, Golden Eagle, and Prairie Falcon. The region also holds migration corridors for birds traveling through the Pacific Flyway, such as the Least Bell’s Vireo and Swainson’s Hawk.

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