New national monument could add to Basin’s scenic spaces - Hi-Desert Star: News

New national monument could add to Basin’s scenic spaces

Senate bill would make Morongo preserve a national monument and expand national park

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Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 8:25 pm | Updated: 12:45 pm, Thu Mar 15, 2012.

MORONGO VALLEY — On a quiet swath of land in Morongo Valley, wildflowers, boulders and sky stretch for miles. Water trickles down a hill, coating the pebbles below with moss.

The Little Morongo Canyon area is designated as federal wilderness area, but its designation leaves it vulnerable to competing interests.

Conservationists and a slew of supporters are hoping to change that.

The California Desert Protection Act of 2011, originally introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein in 2009, would designate the Morongo Valley wilderness area and all of Big Morongo Canyon and Whitewater preserves as a 133,524-acre Sand to Snow National Monument, while adding 2,904 acres to Joshua Tree National Park.

The federal act would set aside this land as well as nearly 1.6 million acres of other scenic and critical-wildlife land throughout California.

Monuments bring money, advocates say

The California Desert Protection Act of 2011 would be a huge accomplishment for conservationists, but advocates say the Sand to Snow Monument itself could be a boon for the Basin. Giving the land monument status would close it off to future development or threats to wildlife, but it would also keep activities like hunting, mining and off-road vehicle use intact.

“This important bill does two important things. Number one, it balances recreational needs in the desert and number two, it enhances opportunities for regional tourism,” Seth Shteir, a field representative for National Parks Conservation Association, said.

Shteir led a presentation about the Sand to Snow Monument proposal at a community meeting Jan. 31 at Morongo Valley Elementary School. Shteir and four panelists urged the audience to get involved with the National Parks Conservation Association in its effort to move the California Desert Protection Act forward.

“In 2010, there were 1.4 million visits to Joshua Tree National Park. For every dollar invested in national parks, it generates another $4 in revenue. That’s a really sound economic investment,” Shteir said.

An Economic Oasis study found $230 million was spent by outdoor recreationists in 2003, he said.

Shteir isn’t the only one who recognizes the role that natural landscapes play in the region’s economy.

He cited data from the 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll, which found that “Western voters across the political spectrum ... view parks and public lands as essential to their state’s economy and support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife.”

As the bill sits in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, advocates are pushing for stronger support.

Everyone from local agencies like chambers of commerce, Copper Mountain College, Riverside County’s Board of Supervisors and even large-scale energy companies like Edison and Sempra Energy are backing the bill, but San Bernardino County’s Board of Supervisors isn’t convinced yet.

“When we say we need to do some work, we need to work on the other two supervisors,” Alan Rasmussen, field representative for 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry, said during Tuesday’s meeting. Rasmussen said Derry embraces the Desert Protection Act, but Supervisors Brad Mitzelfelt and Josie Gonzales have not yet agreed to support the bill.

“I’m embarrassed to say that Riverside County embraced it and we weren’t able to do that,” Rasmussen said.

Supervisors voice energy concerns

Gonzales and Mitzelfelt, who oversee the county’s 5th and 1st Districts, respectively, have yet to take an official stance on the bill, citing concerns over gridlocking renewable energy projects. Mitzelfelt said he takes no issue with the proposed Sand to Snow Monument, but is concerned about limiting new mining claims in what would become Mojave Trails National Monument.

The proposed monument would cover 941,413 acres in an eastern portion of the county along an undeveloped stretch of Route 66.

“I don’t want to limit the opportunities for economic development,” Mitzelfelt said by phone Thursday.

Proponents of the bill say California has more than enough space available for renewable-energy development.

“As far as renewable-energy development, there is zero conflict. There is more than enough land in the desert available for renewable-energy development,” Frazier Haney of the Wildlands Conservancy said by phone Friday.

Haney said the bill does not interfere with two potential solar zones identified by the federal government, or the ones being identified by the state.

According to the California Energy Commission, it will take nearly 128,000 acres of desert land to meet California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard with solar technology. The Bureau of Land Management has identified more than 350,000 acres of land in its solar energy study areas.

Mojave Trails’ mining wouldn’t be compromised either, Haney noted.

“Inside the Mojave Trails there are existing mines. The monument designation wouldn’t affect their operation at all. It would lock in existing uses, whether it’s mining or ORV use of trails. Furthermore, it would legislatively designate those five new off-road vehicle areas in the California desert, which has never been done before,” Haney said.

New energy generation is a major concern for state and county officials.

“As much as I love animals and I love nature, do I sacrifice human needs? Do I sacrifice meeting the community growth demand?” Gonzales said by phone Thursday. “Balancing the needs of both is the trick. They both have to come together in a symbiotic relationship,”

Supporters like Shteir say the number of symbiotic relationships is dwindling.

“We lie sandwiched between two major metropolitan areas,” Shteir said, noting the Basin’s proximity to Los Angeles on the west and Las Vegas toward the east. “We’ve got almost 25 million people here in Southern California … so those two areas of the country are really putting the squeeze on the California desert.”

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2 comments:

  • Mike posted at 1:32 pm on Thu, Feb 9, 2012.

    Mike Posts: 399

    Something to think about…

    Feinstein says the land she wants is pristine. That’s just not so. The land east of the Marine Base has borax and salt works operations, gold mining too. There is agri-business. There are two cross country oil and gas pipe lines and an oil pumping and storage instillation. There’s an electric sub station with miles of transmission line that serve LADWP’s Iron Mt. facility where a somewhat isolated community of employees operate huge pumps that send Colorado River water down a canal to Los Angeles. There is the long abandoned and deteriorating trans-continental telephone pole line, huge obsolete micro-wave horns and recently installed cell-phone towers. Edison power lines further disrupt the natural scenery there as do the Rail Roads, dirt roads and other infrastructure needed to support ongoing exploitation of the area. Should I even mention the twenty or so rotting wooden bridges that need replacement in the section of old route 66 that crosses the flood plane there? I-40 circumnavigated that decades ago.


    This, the good Senator’s latest land grab, would stop the development of renewable energy, new mining, and any possibility of the Base expanding eastward. She has already locked up much of our desert, now she wants a 70 mile long swath from the Base all the way to Arizona.

    If this happens, any need for large areas of open land will, by necessity, look to our side of the Base. That in itself is not a pretty picture but the major concern is that they will take land which has historically and is increasingly being used for recreation and is especially needed for OPEN recreation (google - King of the Hammers – for perspective).

    Feinstein’s plan would devastate the communities of Johnson Valley, Landers and Yucca Mesa (collectively known as Homestead Valley) and the near by Towns of Lucerne, Yucca, and 29 would be impacted too because much of our diverse recreational opportunities would be lost and gas stations, restraints, motels, grocery stores and other tourist supported businesses will suffer for it. Some dealerships, repair services and the local builders of specialized recreational equipment will likely go belly up.

    Feinstein’s plan would have far-reaching impact and our area would be greatly affected.

    …just something to think about!

     
  • Dave Peach posted at 7:45 am on Wed, Feb 8, 2012.

    Dave Peach Posts: 2998

    "“I don’t want to limit the opportunities for economic development,” Mitzelfelt said by phone Thursday."

    "For every dollar invested in national parks, it generates another $4 in revenue. That’s a really sound economic investment,” Shteir said."

    "“As much as I love animals and I love nature, do I sacrifice human needs? Do I sacrifice meeting the community growth demand?” Gonzales said by phone Thursday."

    "Everyone from local agencies like chambers of commerce, Copper Mountain College, Riverside County’s Board of Supervisors and even large-scale energy companies like Edison and Sempra Energy are backing the bill, but San Bernardino County’s Board of Supervisors isn’t convinced yet."

    Conveniently, this is an election year.

     

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