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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
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California lawmakers pitch Chuckwalla National Monument, Joshua Tree expansion

The proposed law would create a 627,855-acre national monument in the Southern California desert and add 17,915 acres to Joshua Tree National Park.

(CN) — U.S. lawmakers from California on Tuesday introduced a bill to create the Chuckwalla National Monument in the Southern California desert and to expand the adjacent Joshua Tree National Park.

The bicameral legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler and by Representative Alex Ruiz, all of whom are Democrats.

They also urged President Joe Biden in a letter signed by additional Democratic representatives from California to use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the monument in eastern Imperial and Riverside counties.

The monument would comprise 627,855 acres of public land and range from the southern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park eastward to the Colorado River. It would add 17,915 acres of previously designated public land to Joshua Tree National Park on the park's eastern side.

With its unique, biodiverse ecosystem, the area is home to species like chuckwalla lizards and the endangered desert tortoise, and it contains critical migration corridors for desert bighorn sheep. It is also home to a number of tribal communities, and the lawmakers said designating the national monument would help protect important spiritual and cultural values tied to the land.

The proposed monument shouldn't obstruct the development of renewable energy in the region, the lawmakers said, and its boundaries were specifically drawn to avoid areas identified under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a joint project by California and federal agencies that streamlines renewable energy development in the Southern California desert.

“Our proposal reflects the input of tribal leaders who have fought for years to protect these sacred landscapes, and from our partners in the energy industry who worked with us to carefully craft the Monument’s boundaries to ensure we can meet our shared clean energy goals," Padilla said. "I look forward to working alongside federal officials, tribes, veterans, and local businesses to secure these protections as soon as possible.”

The bill's announcement included several endorsements by renewable energy groups, including the American Clean Power Association, whose CEO Jason Grumet said that the legislation represented a compromise that achieves conservation interests and enables the buildout of solar generation and clean power transmission necessary to achieve California’s renewable energy goals.

The legislation was welcomed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which noted the landscapes, including part of Chuckwalla Valley, all of the Chuckwalla Mountains and the adjacent Mecca Hills, provide a habitat for desert tortoises, kit foxes and golden eagles — in addition to the proposed monument’s namesake chuckwallas.

“I’m so happy these important bills are moving forward to protect the beauty and biodiversity of these lands for future generations,” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist and California deserts director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For too long these stunning public lands have been passed over for protections, and it’s so important they’re finally being recognized.”

Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Environment, Government

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