January 25, 2011

Feinstein reintroduces desert protection bill

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The Press-Enterprise

Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would create two national monuments covering more than a million acres in the Mojave Desert.

The California Desert Protection Act of 2011 is similar to a desert bill the California Democrat introduced in late 2009, but this one is more focused on land conservation efforts.

The earlier bill also sought to streamline approvals of alternative-energy projects.

Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday that she would work separately with other Western senators on energy legislation that would allow "quicker development of renewable energy projects on private and disturbed public land."

The new bill would:

Create the Mojave Trails and the Sand to Snow national monuments, protecting 941,000 acres and 134,000 acres of federal land, respectively. Mojave Trails would be mostly south of Interstate 40 and west of Needles; Sand to Snow would be north of Interstate 10 between Cabazon and Joshua Tree National Monument.

Add land to Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. The additions would include the remote Castle Mountains near the preserve and a strip of land known as the Bowling Alley near Death Valley.

Protect nearly 76 miles of four waterways in and around Death Valley and the San Bernardino Mountains.

Designate new wilderness areas, including about 250,000 acres near Fort Irwin.

Designate four existing off-highway vehicle areas in the California desert as permanent.

"This bill protects the great wide spaces of the Mojave," said supporter David Lamfrom, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Places like the Castle Mountains, the Bowling Alley and Sand to Snow are part of the beating heart of the Mojave Desert."

San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who represents much of Mojave Desert area, said he is concerned about bill's effect on the region's economic potential.

"Putting more land off limits for mining, for mine exploration and for development, I'm not sure that, in this economy, is what we need to be doing right now," he said.