Obama designates three monuments in California desert

By Stephen Davies

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2016 - Three new national monument designations covering 1.8 million acres of California will connect Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino National Forest, and 15 wilderness areas previously designated by Congress.

The result is the creation of “a series of protected lands stretching hundreds of miles,” the Interior and Agriculture departments said in a joint press release. “The monuments protect current uses of the land, including military training operations, off-highway vehicle recreation, transportation, utility corridors, and existing mining operations.”

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President Barack Obama designated the monuments today. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been pushing for desert protection for more than 20 years, since the passage of the 1994 desert conservation bill.

I'm full of pride and joy knowing that future generations will be able to explore these national monuments and that the land will remain as pristine as it is today,” she said. “To a city girl like me, this expanse of desert, with its ruggedness and unique beauty, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.”

The largest of the three is the Mojave Trails National Monument, which spans 1.6 million acres of federal lands, including more than 350,000 acres of already Congressionally-designated wilderness, managed by the Bureau of Land Management between Barstow and Needles, California.

Another new monument is called the Sand to Snow National Monument, which encompasses about 154,000 acres of federal lands, including just over 100,000 acres of already congressionally designated wilderness east of Los Angeles. It will be managed jointly by the Forest Service and BLM.

The smallest of the three is the Castle Mountains National Monument, 21,000 acres of federal land surrounded by the existing Mojave National Preserve that will be managed by the National Park Service.

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The designations prompted criticism from Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who called it “presidential bullying. The intent of the Antiquities Act is not to act as the President's magic wand to commandeer land. In order to be good stewards of our environment, we need to allow people to have a say in how they recreate and conserve their land. This doesn't. It's an authoritarian act that ignores people under the guise of preservation.”

Obama has used monument designation to protect 265 million acres of land and water, more than any other president in U.S. history.

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