May 9, 2001

Preserve enacted to separate LA from Las Vegas

Excerpt from "The US National Park Service's partnership parks: collaborative responses to middle landscapes"

by Elisabeth M. Hamin
Community and Regional Planning
Iowa State University

Federal land ownership, traditional uses—the Mojave National Preserve

In 1994, President Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act into law, upgrading and expanding Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Monuments to National Parks, and creating the Mojave National Preserve (MNP). The MNP is about 1.5 million acres of searing brown desert interspersed with beautiful oases and dramatic hills. The vast majority of the land in the preserve area is ranched, although because the conditions are so difficult, fewer than 3400 cattle (US National Park Service, n.d.) are actually grazed by about ten families total. A fair bit of small game hunting also occurs, with quail, rabbits and the occasional mule deer as the main targets; a few coyotes and bobcats are trapped each year. More politically important in the fight over the designation were the 10 or so big horn sheep that the California State Department of Fish and Wildlife permits to be hunted each year; these are potent prizes for big-game hunters. The Mojave area has long been a rich source of minerals, although in recent years actual working claims consist of a few major corporate mines with smaller local operations few and far between. Virtually all of the Mojave lands were already federal, but at the time of the designation they were managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is another branch of the Department of the Interior.

A curious thing happened during the negotiations surrounding getting the act passed. Park proponents, who included the major environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, pushed to get the Mojave protected at the highest possible level—as a national park. Park opponents, who included traditional use groups such as the mining industry, cattlemen's association, and pro-hunting groups as well as many local residents, instead argued hard against any inclusion in the NPS. Each side ended up with a partial victory, and a partial defeat. Under the compromise rules Congress laid out in the preserve's authorizing act, ranching and hunting will continue virtually unchanged; some mining may continue, but it will be regulated under the strict mining in the Parks Act of 1976. While in the past the park service has managed incidental grazing or hunting, in the Mojave it becomes a central part of the management role. Because so much of the preserve is under private use and management, working with grazers, miners and homeowners will be central to achieving park unit goals.

One of the reasons why in the end this compromise was acceptable to the pro-park environmentalists may have to do with the reasons for wanting the land protected in the first place. The Mojave is located directly between the sprawling megalopoli of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and directly in the path of growth for each of them. Park proponents never publicly asserted that one purpose of the Mojave designation was to place a measure of growth control on those two expansive desert cities. But in series of interviews, persons outside of NPS management but active both for and against the designation suggested that a significant goal of the bill was growth management for the southwestern desert. By placing the land under park service management, proponents could assure that a big brown belt placed strategically between the two metropolitan areas would prevent the eventual development of one massive, continuous sprawl.

from Land Use Policy
Volume 18, Issue 2, April 2001, Pages 123-135

Land Use Policy is The International Journal Covering All Aspects of Land Use