January 31, 2009

Mojave land trust achieves acquisition milestone

Joshua Tree charity donates 10,000th acre to Park Service

Hi-Desert Star

JOSHUA TREE — The Mojave Desert Land Trust, a Joshua Tree public charity, announced the acquisition of its 10,000th acre of land to be donated to the National Park Service this week.

The land trust has given land to Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park through 183 transactions at a cost of $5 million dollars.

Mindy Kaufman, the land trust’s president, said she was extremely proud of the achievement: “We are only 3 years old as a land trust and these acquisitions speak to the grit and determination of the board, our funders, small staff, great volunteers and the community in its desire to preserve land in the Mojave Desert.”

Founded in 2005, the Mojave Desert Land Trust uses a fund in the Preserving Wild California Program to acquire privately held parcels inside the boundaries of desert national parks.

Most national parks contain private lands that are holdovers from the homesteading, ranching and mining days.

The Mojave Land Trust believes these lands can become the staging grounds for incompatible development, such as commercial real estate or homes, putting wildlife, natural and cultural treasures and the experiences of park visitors at risk.

According to the land trust, the National Park Service lists 1.8 million acres of private land it hopes will be acquired and donated to the government at an estimated price tag of $1.9 billion.

Inholdings that require restoration from dumping, illegal roads or other uses are restored by the Mojave Desert Land Trust before they are donated to the National Park Service.

To date, using professional contractors and the volunteer time of trained land stewards, over 70 acres have been restored — recycling more than 15 tons of debris, 36 vehicles and four travel trailers.

This year, Nolina Peak, which the land trust acquired in 2007, was incorporated into Joshua Tree National Park.

The 640-acre Nolina Peak parcel protects the Quail Mountain watershed originating in Joshua Tree National Park.

“In only three years, the MDLT has acquired over 3,500 acres in Joshua Tree, a rate of acquisition that far exceeds what the park was able to accomplish,” said Curt Sauer, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park.

“While these lands are all critical to the management of resources within the park, the acquisition of Nolina Peak is a giant step forward in our ability to preserve the northwest end of Quail Mountain, with its resident populations of bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion and desert tortoise.”

Sauer said he considers the land trust an important partner for conservation in the Mojave Desert.

Another recent acquisition of 320 acres is located in the Mojave National Preserve. A wildlife corridor, this land links the pinyon juniper highlands of the New York Mountains with the Watson Wash drainage.

The site also includes habitat for plants and animals and is the location of a historic homestead.

Preserve superintendent Dennis Schramm said the land trust’s help has been especially critical in the past several years, when federal money to buy land was mostly unavailable.

“Wilderness, desert tortoise critical habitat, springs and other biologically diverse properties are now permanently protected due to the efforts of MDLT,” said Schramm.