During his administration, President Obama has helped protect 265 million acres of land and water in the U.S. — more than any other president. He has just designated three new national monuments in California and has his eye on even more as his second term winds down.
The sites encompass 1.8 million acres, will link three existing sites — Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and the Mojave National Preserve — to create the second-largest desert preserve in the world, the Washington Post reported
Castle Mountains, Mojave Trails, and Sand to Snow are the country’s new protected areas, created under the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law Franklin D. Roosevelt was also very fond of and used more than any of his predecessors.
The Act provides the president with immense powers to protect any federal lands that are at risk and have cultural, historic, or scientific value. The president has created these areas in that spirit.
According to the White House, Obama has two criteria for protecting landscapes, one environmental and one culture. This declaration fits both: joining the monuments together with three existing sites will “foster resilience to climate change” and are “connected to people and communities that have not been historically represented.”
The Los Angeles Times described the monuments’ iconic Wild West beauty as including “volcanic spires, dunes, ribbons of wetlands wedged between steep canyon walls, grasslands, Joshua tree forests, historic roadways and petroglyphs.” Heat-loving animals thrive here, including bighorn sheep, tortoises, fringe-toed lizards, and more than 250 types of birds.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has tried and failed to protect this land for a decade, and in an attempt to protect it for good, asked the commander in chief to invoke the Antiquities Act to create these new monuments near Palm Springs and the Nevada border.
“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 is the largest protected area at 1.6 million acres of federal land and former railroad property along old Route 66. It links Joshua Tree and Mojave. The Sand to Snow is about 154,000 acres between Joshua Tree and the San Bernardino National Forest, and it includes 24 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, has 1,700 petroglyphs (Native American rock art), and a major bird-watching area. Castle Mountains includes 20,920 acres south of Las Vegas, with a historic mining camp, Joshua trees, and rare grassland.
Now that Obama has protected this remarkable landscape, conservationist David Lamfrom wants to introduce “species of a bygone era,” like the pronghorn antelope, which a few centuries ago was chased across the landscape by Mexican wolves.
This designation will also save species and ensure they survive despite human interference. The ecosystem will allow bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and endangered desert tortoises to flourish.
So what’s next on Obama’s list? Five Native tribes — the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain, and Pueblo — want Obama to guard 1.9 million acres of Utah where the Anasazi and Navajo used to live, a site now threatened by grave robbers and looting that’s destroying sacred sites.
Other possible new monuments, according to the Post: “Stonewall, the site of a 1969 inn riot by members of New York City’s gay community; the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts; the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, D.C.; and Nevada’s Gold Butte.”
As for American waters, a group of Hawaiians want Obama to expand the Papahanaumokuakea, where 1,700 marine species call the islands and atolls home.
[Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP]