President Barack Obama on Friday set aside 1.8 million acres of Southern California desert for protection, using his sometimes controversial executive power to designate three new national monuments.
In a long-anticipated decision, Obama designated the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
“The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of Southern California,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
The federal government already owns the affected lands, and Jewell noted that “valid existing” uses, including by the U.S. military, can continue.
Obama is designating the new national monuments using powers accorded presidents under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The new monuments join others already created in California, including the Carrizo Plains, Cesar E. Chavez and Giant Sequoia national monuments.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a long-time champion of desert protection, had introduced legislation for the national monuments but a Republican-controlled Congress did not appear likely to move the public lands bill.
“Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Senator Feinstein, these monuments will allow future generations to explore and enjoy the beauty of the desert for years to come,” Cathedral City Mayor Stan Henry said in a statement.
The Sand to Snow National Monument covers 154,000 acres. The Mojave Trails National Monument spans 1.6 million acres between Barstow and Needles, Calif, some of which is already designated wilderness. The Castle Mountains area is 21,000 acres, surrounded by the existing Mojave National Preserve.
Some past presidential national monument designations, including President Bill Clinton’s election-year designation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, in 2000, have prompted sharp retorts and congressional oversight hearings by unhappy Republicans.