San Bernardino Sun
The only reason the original Desert Protection Act passed in 1994 was because the environmental community finally realized it needed hunters' support to get enough votes to pass the legislation.
Sportsmen/conservationists had been frustrated with the management of the desert, too, and recognized the greatest threat to desert wildlife and hunting was ever-expanding mining, solar, and wind-farm operations, poorly managed cattle grazing and unregulated off-road vehicle use - all benchmarks of the Bureau of Land Management back then.
But hunters couldn't support the original bill because it would have banned hunting in the massive new national park proposed in the east Mojave Desert, an area they were just about the only ones using at the time. (And hunters certainly were the only users not having a negative impact on the land.) The simple designation change from National Park to National Preserve allowed for virtually all of the protections and enhanced management afforded by the National Park Service while also allowing hunting to continue.
It was a win-win situation. The Desert Protection Act put aside the shrill debate about regulated hunting to secure sound resource management and conservation of our pristine desert. Hunters came on board with the environmental community and massive desert protections were enacted. The Mojave National Preserve has continued to be one of the most popular destinations for Southern California hunters.
While I know some hunters will argue with me, and there with a few early problems with the preserve's first superintendent, the management of the area is better than it has ever been. Cattle grazing has been phased out, extractive industries banned, and off-road travel ended. For a lot of us, it is the most beautiful unit in the National Park Service system and it has the potential to just keep getting better and better.
But the Desert Protection Act preserved only a relatively small part of Mojave Desert's public lands, and in recent years, the threats to millions of acres of desert have grown by leap and bounds. I've recently written about wind farms on some of the best hunting and wildlife areas in the West Mojave, and applications for wind and solar farms -if all approved - would just about carpet our desert with so-called green energy production.
But at what cost? Alarm bells were going off throughout the conservation community.
Earlier this month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the Desert Protection Act of 2010. The legislation would create two new National Monuments covering more than one million acres of Southern California deserts and local mountains. It would assure more than a quarter million acres of land donated to, or purchased by, the federal government for conservation were not put into energy farms, military use, or off-road vehicle areas, destroying the land's value for natural resources.
There's a lot included in the 178 pages of this legislation, but this time hunters were brought in the in the writing of this bill, and by and large, it stays focused on protection of natural resources. Hunting is specifically named as one of the activities that will continue on the newly protected lands. Even OHVs and cattle grazing are protected in areas where those activities currently exist. The bill really is aimed at stopping the rampant destruction of our desert public lands for energy production.
Most of the hunter-conservation groups are carefully looking over the language and likely will line up to support the bill.
Hunters almost always are asked to compromise in situations like this. Compromise in our case means giving up something - a gun right, a place to hunt, a game animal that has been hunted for centuries. And each time we give up a little so we don't lose even more.
This bill looks like one of those rare cases where we'll get something instead of giving up something. We'll get protection of traditional hunting spots and not have to worry about losing them in the future. I can support that.