California famously has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to landscapes: spectacular mountains, unique redwood forests, and a coastline that ranges from idyllic beaches to rocky cliffs. But as many a lottery winner can tell you, even the most fabulous wealth can be squandered all too easily if one isn’t careful. And once you’ve lost an ancient forest, an unspoiled coastline, or a pristine desert, it’s impossible to get it back.
That’s why it’s great news that President Obama has picked up where Congress left off more than 20 years ago when it passed the California Desert Protection Act. The newly designated Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments protect parts of the Mojave and Sonoran wilderness that were being squeezed by growing populations in both southeastern California and southern Nevada as well as facing threats from mining and other industries.
Once considered hostile wastelands to be crossed as quickly as possible, the deserts of California are valued today for their austere grandeur, unique wildlife, and (when the rains come, as they have this year) incredible wildflower displays. Supporting a thriving local tourism industry, millions of visitors each year visit Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, and the Mojave National Preserve. These lands are an irreplaceable part of our outdoor heritage, and if you’ve never visited them, then you are in for a treat when you do. My family has taken some of our most memorable camping trips throughout this beautiful region.
The new national monuments contain both cultural and natural riches. They encompass ancient trade routes of indigenous Americans, as well as historic Route 66. They provide essential habitat for desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagles, and a host of migratory bird species. In fact, the striking landscapes that have been protected include not only deserts but also wetlands, woodlands, and mountain vistas. They provide first-class opportunities for hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and skiing.
The new monuments will also provide much-needed wildlife corridors between the San Bernardino Mountains, San Jacinto Mountains, and Joshua Tree National Park, which will make it easier for plants and animals that are struggling to adapt both to climate change and encroaching urbanization. They will never know who was responsible for giving them a chance to survive, but we do.