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Feinstein Introduces Updated California Desert Protection Bill

Protects desert land, balances competing uses

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015, a bill that amends and updates the historic California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

The new bill is designed to protect additional land and help manage California’s desert resources by carefully balancing conservation, recreation and renewable energy development. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

“This piece of legislation is the final chapter in a long effort to preserve one of the most magnificent landscapes in the United States,” Feinstein said. “We must ensure that critical parts of the California desert—with its mountain vistas, bighorn sheep, mule deer, desert tortoises, Joshua trees, Native American petroglyphs and much more—will be protected for all time.”

Feinstein continued: “This new bill preserves more land, sets aside off-road recreational sites and allows for the development of renewable energy in a responsible way. With so many competing uses for this land, it is essential that we come together to build consensus—and I am very grateful for all the groups and individuals who are working to do just that.”

Senator Boxer said, “I am proud to cosponsor this bill that will continue our legacy of preserving California’s desert, which is critical for the environment and for our economy.”

The new bill is intended to build upon the legacy of the 1994 bill, which was introduced by Senator Feinstein in January 1993 and signed into law by President Clinton in October 1994. That bill established the Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve and protected more than 7.6 million acres of California desert wilderness.

The text of the 2015 bill is an attempt to achieve consensus on the various uses of desert land. It is the result of years of engagement with a range of stakeholders including environmental groups, local and state government officials, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense, wind and solar energy companies, California’s public utility companies and many others.

The bill’s key provisions:

  • Create two new national monuments:
    • The Mojave Trails National Monument, which would encompass 965,000 acres of land, including former Catellus-owned lands that were donated to the U.S. government with the intention of preservation.
    • The Sand to Snow National Monument, which would encompass 135,000 acres of land from the desert floor in Coachella Valley to the peak of Mount San Gorgonio.
  • Designate six new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness areas covering 250,000 acres.
  • Designate 18,610 acres of BLM land in Inyo County as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, preserving it for continued recreational use.
  • Designate 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
  • Add acreage to Death Valley National Park (39,000 acres), Joshua Tree National Park (4,500 acres) and the Mojave National Preserve (22,000 acres).
  • Designate five existing BLM Off-Highway Vehicle areas (covering approximately 142,000 acres of California desert) as permanent Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation areas, providing off-highway enthusiasts certainty that these uses of the desert will be protected in a manner similar to conservation areas.
  • Provide a balanced approach to renewable energy development through several provisions. For example, the bill:
    • encourages the development of new renewable energy in solar zones established by the federal government, avoiding conflicts over lands long intended for conservation;
    • requires the exchange of hundreds of thousands of acres of isolated state parcels currently surrounded by national parks and wilderness, providing the state with lands that could be used for renewable energy, recreation or conservation; and
    • allows for upgrades to transmission lines necessary to bring clean energy from new desert solar and wind farms to urban areas, while still protecting pristine landscapes.

Additional information:

  • Full text of the legislation can be found here.
  • A general, overview map can be found here.
  • More detailed maps on specific provisions can be found here.