Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Legislation to Create New National Monuments

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill that would change the protected status of millions of acres of federal land. Some areas would become more protected while others would lose some protections. You can see a rundown of the changes and involved sites at Coyote Crossing.

The act seems to be at least partly directed at the solar and wind industries, as it would block controversial energy developments in some parts of the Mojave Desert.

The debate over the monument encapsulates a rising tension between two goals held by environmental groups: preservation of wild lands and ambitious efforts to combat global warming.

Not only is the desert land some of the sunniest in the country, and thus suitable for large-scale power production, it is also some of the most scenic territory in the West. The Mojave lands have sweeping vistas of an ancient landscape that is home to desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, fringe-toed lizards and other rare animals and plants.
Feinstein wants to push the solar and wind projects off sensitive wilderness areas and into already disturbed land.
On Thursday, Mrs. Feinstein introduced legislation to provide a 30 percent tax credit to developers that consolidate degraded private land for solar projects. She followed that on Monday with the legislation to create the 941,00-acre Mojave Trails National Monument and the 134,00-acre Sand to Snow National Monument.

“I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California desert,” Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement. “This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns.”

Developers and environmentalists say Mrs. Feinstein has modified the monument legislation to address some of their issues. The 2.5 million acres set aside in a draft version of the monument act has been shrunk to around one million acres, allowing at least two projects to proceed. The bill also includes provisions designed to accelerate approval of renewable energy projects on federal land.
You can read more about the problems with placing solar developments in wild areas of the Mojave at the Clade, here and here.

Update: Here is more detail on the two proposed new national monuments, including a map with their locations.
The biggest component is the 941,000-acre Mojave Trails National Monument encompassing dry lakes, mountain ranges and other terrain on both sides of Interstate 40 south of Mojave National Preserve.

It also would create the 134,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument from the desert north of Palm Springs to San Gorgonio Peak. It would include Big Morongo and Whitewater canyons and nature preserves in Pipes Canyon and along Mission Creek on the eastern flanks of the San Bernardino Mountains.
The Sand to Snow monument would help to fill in gaps between existing wildlife areas in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, providing a path for animals to move between the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountain ranges. It would include existing wilderness around 11,499-foot San Gorgonio, Southern California's highest peak.

The area is important for reptiles, bighorn sheep and migratory birds that rely on habitats where desert transitions into forest.

The bill would expand Death Valley National Park by 41,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park by 2,900 acres, and the Mojave National Preserve by 30,000 acres. It would protect 76 miles of waterways, including the Whitewater River and Deep Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains, and the Amargosa River and Surprise Canyon, in the Death Valley area.
The bill seems to emphasize expanding and connecting existing protected areas. However, the bill also makes significant concessions to off-road vehicle users and withdraws protections from some areas, so see the full list of changes here.