Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (S.67) to update and expand protections for 716,000 acres of the California desert. The legislation, which was included as part of the broader lands package introduced in the Senate yesterday, is cosponsored by Senator Harris (D-Calif.). Companion legislation has been introduced by Congressman Paul Cook (R-Calif.) in the House.
“The beauty of California’s desert is unmatched, and we have a responsibility to keep it pristine for future generations,” said Senator Feinstein. “Unlike many deserts, ours is full of life—from desert tortoises to bighorn sheep, breathtaking wildflower blooms to Joshua trees—that define its unique beauty. The California desert deserves protection.”
“I promised off-roaders and environmental groups that we’d complete the effort to better manage the desert we started almost 25 years ago, and that’s exactly what this legislation would do. Last Congress, this bill passed out of committee and was included in a broader public lands package. However, despite bipartisan support, that bill never received a vote. We plan to build on last year’s momentum and pass this legislation as quickly as possible this year.”
The bill builds upon the legacy of the California Desert Protection Act, Senator Feinstein’s landmark legislation that was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. That bill established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and protected more than 7.6 million acres of California desert wilderness.
In 2016, Senator Feinstein requested President Obama to expand protections for the desert by creating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. Those new public lands will also benefit from this legislation.
This bill would finish efforts started in 1994 to restore and protect the desert and its surrounding communities. It is the result of years of engagement with a range of stakeholders including local and state government officials, environmental groups, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense and California’s public utility companies.
Key provisions of the legislation:
- Protects more than 375,000 acres of wilderness: Creates eight new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas totaling 280,360 acres, expands Death Valley National Park Wilderness by 88,000 acres and adds 7,141 acres to the San Gorgonio Wilderness within San Bernardino National Forest.
- National Park land: Expands Joshua Tree National Park by 4,518 acres and Death Valley National Park by 35,292 acres, which includes 1,600 acres donated by the Mojave Desert Land Trust.
- Off-highway vehicle recreation areas: Permanently designates six existing off-highway vehicle recreational areas covering more than 200,000 acres, ensuring off-highway enthusiasts will have continued access to those areas to enjoy trail riding.
- Alabama Hills National Scenic Area: Designates 18,610 acres of BLM land in Inyo County as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, preserving it for continued recreation and conservation.
- Vinagre Wash Special Management Area: Designates 81,800 acres in Imperial County that provides for wilderness preservation, vehicular use on designated routes, and limitations on extractive uses of the land within the management area.
- Wild and Scenic Rivers: Designates 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.