April 10, 2008

Conservation bill to add protection for mountain land

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Diana Marrero • Washington Bureau
Desert Sun

A popular destination for tourists and local hiking enthusiasts - the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument - could receive extra protection under a bill the House approved Wednesday.

The mountain terrain is among nearly 26 million acres of national monuments, historic trails and wilderness areas out West that could get additional protection under the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

The 278-140 House vote would officially designate the system of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management as the National Landscape Conservation system.

The lands include the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, the California coastline, a portion of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada and the Grand Staircase in Utah.

These "crown jewels," of the West have fallen victim to vandalism, artifact theft, and off-road vehicles that trample plants and other habitats despite their designation as conservation areas by former President Clinton in 2000.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs and co-chair of the National Landscape Conservation System Caucus, said, "Passing this bill is a positive step toward ensuring the protection of some our nation's most unique and valuable lands. … These valuable and culturally significant lands deserve the oversight and permanence that comes with Congressional recognition."

Conservation advocates say the congressional recognition - already given to the national parks and wildlife refuges - would ensure a steadier source of funding for the system.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains tower over the Coachella Valley and encompass about 272,000 acres, according to the Bureau of Land Management.