WHITEWATER, Calif. (CN) – Southern California is known for its diverse landscape, including the tallest mountain peaks in the state down to the desert, which has been teeming with life since experiencing a super bloom after an unusually wet winter. But when the area connecting the two different landscapes was left unprotected from development – particularly by the energy sector – despite having support from varied groups including environmentalists and off-road enthusiasts, it took an executive order by former President Barack Obama to do what locals say Congress failed to: create the Sand to Snow National Monument.
The monument was formally dedicated a little over a year ago by Obama through an executive order under the Antiquities Act. The monument protects one of the 25 most biologically diverse regions in the world and is where the desert and the mountains meet.
President Donald Trump has since called into question public lands protected under executive orders made by Obama and Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, claiming the communities where the protected lands are located weren’t given enough opportunities to provide input to the government.
Trump’s executive order to review the lands leaves the sensitive landscapes vulnerable to development. And the Sand to Snow experts and visitors Courthouse News spoke to dispute the president’s claim that locals were not included in the vetting process, instead saying an executive order was the only way to ensure the land would be protected when Congress failed to do so.
Divided Congress Makes Legislation Impossible
Since 2009, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, repeatedly introduced legislation in Congress to establish the Sand to Snow monument. When movement stalled in Washington, she wrote a letter in August 2015 asking Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect the sensitive landscape before he left office.
Though Feinstein said when Obama’s executive order was signed she had always preferred to designate the land though legislation, she noted she had tried to get a bill passed for six years which had “diverse stakeholder support” from local governments and officials, environmental groups, off-road enthusiasts, cattle ranchers and the like.
Feinstein hosted a public meeting at the Whitewater Preserve which was attended by 1,000 people, including hundreds who were bused in, in the months leading up to Obama’s executive order.
Her spokesman Adam Russell told Courthouse News after multiple media requests that the senator was traveling and unable to provide a statement on Trump’s executive order.
But San Bernardino County Supervisor Jose Ramos said in a statement to Courthouse News the local community was involved in “substantial vetting” when the monument was being considered by Congress.
“The county’s position has been that any national monument designations should go through the legislative process, rather than by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act,” Ramos said.