Over the past year, I‘ve engaged local residents through multiple surveys, met with off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, local environmental organizations, representatives of the mining community, and many others about the need to protect our beautiful desert and the economic vitality of our region.
Last week, I introduced the product of this feedback: HR 3668, the California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act. This bill places over a million acres of existing scenic federal lands into conservation for future generations, all while protecting recreational off-highway vehicle use, and still allowing important economic activity in the California desert.
The desert is our home, and we want to protect it for our children and their children. My bill protects over 965,000 acres of desert south of the Mojave National Preserve as the Mojave Trails Special Management Area. Under this new management area, renewable energy development would be banned. Additionally, it would limit new mining operations to 10 percent of the total acreage; this will protect nearly 900,000 acres from any sort of industrial-scale activity. To maintain access, my bill would write into law over 1,200 miles of existing roads and trails within Mojave Trails.
It also establishes the Sand to Snow National Monument west of Joshua Tree National Park. This monument would link the Joshua Tree National Park with the San Bernardino Mountains, ensuring a valuable east-west corridor for local wildlife. Additionally, this bill would designate over 340,000 acres of new wilderness. This land would receive the highest possible level of federal protection and would provide critical habitat for desert wildlife. It would also include language allowing the installment of wildlife guzzlers, a crucial conservation tool that has been invaluable in preserving desert bighorn sheep populations.
The California Desert is home to three National Parks: Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and the Mojave Preserve. My bill will expand these parks by over 68,000 acres. In particular, the Castle Mountains will be incorporated into the Mojave Preserve in two phases; half will be added to the park immediately, while the remainder will be incorporated after mining operations are completed at Castle Mountain Gold Mine. It will also authorize Joshua Tree National Park to acquire the Joshua Tree Visitor Center.
Protecting recreational use is also a critical part of my bill. It will establish five National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Areas in the California Desert: Spangler Hills, El Mirage, Rasor, Dumont Dunes, and Stoddard Valley. Additionally, it will re-designate Johnson Valley as a National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area and expand it by nearly 20,000 acres. This will give additional protections to OHV users and ensure that these areas cannot be closed administratively. This is not only a win for recreational use, but a conservation win as well. By creating the nation’s first system of National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation areas, we’ll ensure that OHV activity is conducted in appropriate locations, protecting other lands for conservation purposes. In total, this legislation designates approximately 300,000 acres of land for OHV recreational use.
The California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act is the product of a year’s worth of outreach and input from stakeholders across the California Desert. I believe that it does a great job of balancing conservation and recreation with the economic needs of desert communities. I recognize that it is a starting point, and I look forward to continuing to work with all desert stakeholders as it moves through the legislative process to pass a bill that will ensure future generations have access to the same desert that we do today.
This editorial first appeared in the San Bernardino Sun’s online edition on October 8, 2015. You can access it by clicking here.