President Barack Obama disappointed many environmentalists in his first term, but as the end of his second nears his accomplishments are picking up steam. Today, Obama created three national monuments in the Southern California desert, encompassing 1.8 million acres. Obama has preserved 265 million acres of land and water, more than any other president (although 258 million of those acres are ocean).
“Our country is home to some of the most beautiful God-given landscapes in the world,” the president said in a release. “We’re blessed with natural treasures – from the Grand Tetons to the Grand Canyon; from lush forests and vast deserts to lakes and rivers teeming with wildlife. And it’s our responsibility to protect these treasures for future generations, just as previous generations protected them for us.”
Obama was motivated not just by the desire to burnish his conservation bona fides, but to help species adapt to climate change by protecting important wildlife corridors and setting aside “the space and elevation range that they will need in order to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”
The move is also a nod to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been trying for 20 years to protect more land in the southern part of the state. In 1994, the California Desert Protection Act created the Mojave National Preserve and boosted Joshua Tree and Death Valley from national monuments to national parks; since then, Feinstein has been on a mission to include spaces that weren’t covered by the 7.6 million acre law. With her California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act going nowhere in an antagonistic Congress, she asked Obama to take executive action via the 1906 Antiquities Act.
“The effort to preserve the California desert has been a long one, and today is a major milestone,” Feinstein told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
Mojave Trails National Monument
Spanning 1.6 million acres, more than 350,000 acres of previously congressionally-designated Wilderness, the Mojave Trails National Monument is comprised of a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes. The monument will protect irreplaceable historic resources including ancient Native American trading routes, World War II-era training camps, and the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66. Additionally, the area has been a focus of study and research for decades, including geological research and ecological studies on the effects of climate change and land management practices on ecological communities and wildlife.
Sand to Snow National Monument
Encompassing 154,000 acres, including just over 100,000 acres of already congressionally-designated Wilderness, Sand to Snow National Monument is an ecological and cultural treasure and one of the most biodiverse areas in southern California, supporting more than 240 species of birds and twelve threatened and endangered wildlife species. Home to the region’s tallest alpine mountain that rises from the floor of the Sonoran desert, the monument also will protect sacred, archaeological and cultural sites, including an estimated 1,700 Native American petroglyphs. Featuring thirty miles of the world famous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the area is a favorite for camping, hiking, hunting, horseback riding, photography, wildlife viewing, and even skiing.
Castle Mountains National Monument
The Castle Mountains National Monument is an integral piece of the Mojave Desert with important natural resources and historic sites, including Native American archeological sites. The 20,920-acre monument will serve as a critical connection between two mountain ranges, protecting water resources, plants, and wildlife such as golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bobcats.