Bill to protect habitat along Santa Ana River also discussed
Washington—The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, & Mining held a hearing on two of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) bills, the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act and the Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act.
California Desert Protection and Recreation Act
The bill will build on more than two decades of success in protecting the California desert, including Senator Feinstein’s historic California Desert Protection Act of 1994 and President Obama’s 2016 designation of three national monuments in the California desert.
This new bill would create five off-road vehicle areas totaling nearly 142,000 acres and designates more than 230,000 acres as wilderness areas, including expansions of Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and San Bernardino National Forest. The bill also designates 77 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, establishes the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area and clarifies how desert land can be used for renewable energy development, including creating a process to allocate revenues from renewable energy projects to state and local governments.
“First introduced in 2009, this bill is the product of more than a decade of a robust collaborative and public process, as well as two congressional hearings,” Senator Feinstein wrote in her submitted testimony. “The bill strikes a balance between the many competing uses for public lands across the California desert, while protecting it for current and future generations.”
Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act
The 4,500 acre Santa Ana Wash is a patchwork of land parcels owned by either the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District or the Bureau of Land Management at the junction of the Santa Ana River and Mill Creek. The bill facilitates a land exchange between the water district and BLM to consolidate 1,347 acres of open space to preserve and protect habitat along the river’s floodplain as part of the broader Santa Ana River Wash Plan.
“This bill represents the type of collaborative efforts between federal and local agencies, nonprofit, and community groups, to develop smart, effective land use planning with multiple benefits,” Senator Feinstein wrote in her submitted testimony. “This bipartisan bill would help implement a locally—developed plan to restore and protect habitat while maintaining the local mining industry in an environmentally sensitive manner along the Santa Ana River below the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California.”
Full text of Senator Feinstein’s testimony follows:
Thank you Chair Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell for this hearing. I appreciate the opportunity to testify regarding two important bills: the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017 (S. 32), and the Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act (S. 357).
First, I would like to speak briefly about the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017, which is truly a bill I am very proud of and is two decades in the making. I’ll tell you a little about its history.
When I first came to the Senate, former California Senator Alan Cranston asked me to take on his desert bill, make it my own and get it passed.
And that’s what we did. In 1994, the first California Desert Protection Act passed and transformed the desert.
It established the iconic Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve.
The desert and its surrounding communities, local businesses, and industry flourished. People from around the world come to experience this magnificent and unique California desert landscape.
According to the National Park Service, in 2016, both Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks recorded record numbers of visitors—upward of 3.8 million people. Visitor spending exceeded $155 million and supported more than 2,100 local jobs.
This desert is alive with rare plants and animals found nowhere else. The remarkable wildflower blooms, like the one this past spring, was awe-inspiring. The desert tortoise, big horn sheep, and mule deer are incredible animals that have adapted to this habitat.
If I may, I would like to submit photographs taken by my staff and local residents that showcase the rare beauty of the area. They are included in the packet of support materials I would ask to include in the record.
The desert bill you are considering today builds on a two-decade history and completes the vision set in 1994 by a broad range of stakeholders.
Support for this bill includes local elected officials, off-road recreation groups, environmental groups, civic groups, local businesses, and tribes.
First introduced in 2009, this bill is the product of more than a decade of a robust collaborative and public process, as well as two Congressional hearings.
The bill strikes a balance between the many competing uses for public lands across the California desert, while protecting it for current and future generations.
This is why it enjoys a broad range of support. Supporters include:
- More than 10 off-road recreational vehicle organizations.
- More than 10 national and local environmental groups.
- Local elected officials including Inyo County Board of Supervisors.
- Local businesses, Chambers of Commerce, and student and veterans groups.
I would like to submit the list of endorsements and letters of support to this committee, if I may. I think you will find there is very broad support for this bill.
The California desert has something for everyone: hiking and rock collecting, horseback riding, hunting in the remote backcountry, off-road vehicle trails, prehistoric petroglyphs, tribal cultural sites, and old mining camps and historic towns that are remnants of the “old west.”
Some highlights of the bill are:
- Wilderness: Designates five new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness areas covering 234,230 acres.
- Permanent OHV areas: Designates five existing BLM Off-Highway Vehicle areas covering approximately 142,000 acres as permanent Off-Highway Vehicle recreation areas.
- Scenic areas: Designates 18,610 acres of BLM land in Inyo County as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, preserving it for continued recreational use.
- Wild and Scenic Rivers: Designates 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
- National Park land: Adds acreage to Death Valley National Park (39,369 acres) and Joshua Tree National Park (4,518 acres).
- Renewable Energy: Aligns the conservation, recreation, and renewable energy activities with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.
I thank you again for this opportunity to testify in strong support of this bill, and tell you about the California desert—a true national treasure. I look forward to continuing to work with this committee to advance and pass this bill that remains one of my top legislative priorities.
I’d also like to briefly speak in support of the Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act that is also before you today.
Although on a smaller scale than the desert bill I just described, this bill represents the type of collaborative efforts between federal and local agencies, nonprofit, and community groups, to develop smart, effective land use planning with multiple benefits.
This bipartisan bill would help implement a locally-developed plan to restore and protect habitat while maintaining the local mining industry in an environmentally sensitive manner along the Santa Ana River below the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California.
As I mentioned, this bill is the culmination of years of collaboration between numerous federal and state agencies, private industry and municipalities representing mining, flood control, water supply, and wildlife conservation, among other interests.
Included among the supporters of this land exchange are:
- County of San Bernardino.
- City of Redlands.
- City of Highland.
- San Bernardino Water Conservation District.
- San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.
- East Valley Water District.
- Endangered Habitats League.
- CEMEX Construction Materials Pacific.
- Robertson’s Ready Mix.
- Inland Action.
Thank you again to this committee, especially Chair Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell, for your leadership and the opportunity to testify about these important bills.
Both of these bills represent many years of collaboration and enjoy a broad range of support. These bills also show how multiple, and at times conflicting, land uses can be harmonized when we all work together to benefit current and future generations of Americans.