Citizens Call on the President to Protect Fragile Habitat for Wildlife in National Monuments
It’s an exciting time to live and work on conservation issues in the Mojave Desert. Recently, California Senator Dianne Feinstein publicly asked President Obama to designate three new National Monuments in the California desert totaling more than 1.4 million acres of public land. These lands would be managed for protection of resources including the sensitive plants and animals that live there. Designation of these monuments would protect habitat for the federally threatened desert tortoise, the state sensitive desert bighorn sheep, golden eagle, prairie falcon, bears, mountain lions and many other species. These areas also harbor many rare plant species, three of which are new to science!
So where are these three monuments and why are they so important for wildlife?
The proposed Mojave Trails National Monument is located in the middle of the eastern Mojave Desert of California. It would preserve striking desert lands that link Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. The lands in the proposed National Monument are habitat for desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and other sensitive and unique plants and animals. They will provide needed protection for our desert wildlife, allowing species to adapt to changing climatic conditions. It also features the most intact stretch of historic Route 66, a significant feature in the history of California and the American West. We also want to include the Pisgah Valley in Mojave Trails National Monument, as this area is densely populated with desert tortoise, provides winter foraging grounds for bighorn sheep, and connects the eastern Mojave ecoregion with the west.
The proposed Castle Mountains National Monument would fill in a critical gap in the Mojave National Preserve. The mountains in this area support populations of desert bighorn sheep, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, jack rabbit, bats, other small mammals, and many active golden eagle nests. Some of the finest Joshua tree, pinon pine and juniper forests communities in the California desert exist in the Castle Mountains. The area contains intact native desert grassland, so federal and state agencies are looking at it as a location to reintroduce pronghorn, the second fastest land mammal in the world. The area offers opportunities to protect and study wildlife movement between the Piute Mountains and the New York Mountains.
The proposed Sand to Snow National Monument rises from the Sonoran Desert floor up to southern California’s tallest mountain, Mount San Gorgonio. It contains a rich tapestry of landscapes and habitats including alpine peaks, Joshua tree woodlands, mountain vistas, rivers and wetlands, and desert. Desert bighorn sheep traverse these lands, travelling from the desert to higher elevations in search of forage and water in the summer. These lands also hold 25 miles of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail and the headwaters of southern California’s longest river, the Santa Ana River, as well as the headwaters of the Whitewater River. Preserving transition habitat for wildlife in this area – places they can move to as changing climate impacts other parts of their habitat – is essential for many species, especially bighorn sheep.
Together, these three monuments represent a huge step toward connecting the fabric of intact desert wildlife habitat in the California desert that will in turn enhance the conservation value of all lands in the area. These monuments will conserve key connections between landscapes and allow for species to adapt to a changing climate. And they will ensure nature remains resilient on a grand scale in this land of extremes.
This coming Tuesday October 13, top Department of Interior and Agriculture officials will travel to Southern California for a public listening session to discuss Senator Feinstein’s proposal for President Obama to protect these proposed national monuments under the Antiquities Act. If Obama acts on the Senator’s proposal, it would create the largest land-based national monument of his presidency and would be among his boldest conservation moves. Let’s show our support for these three California desert national monuments, including the addition of the pristine Pisgah Valley!