Obama Just Protected 1.8 Million Acres of Desert. Here’s What They Look Like

President Obama has granted national monument status to nearly 1.8 million acres of California desert, protecting “in perpetuity” the region’s fragile ecosystems and natural resources, the White House said Friday.

It’s a move that nearly doubles the amount of land the president has set aside for conservation since taking office, and it adds to the 263 million acres of water area Obama has placed under federal protections as well.

The three new national monuments—named Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains—connect three existing protected areas and 15 designated wilderness areas.

Wildlife conservation groups such as the Wilderness Society, which has worked for more than a decade to get the desert areas protected, hope the protections will help wildlife migrate safely between the Mojave National Preserve area and Joshua Tree National Park.

“Permanent protection of these desert regions will mean a chance of survival for endangered wildlife and rare plants that need space to migrate and adapt in this era of climate change,” said Dan Smuts, the society’s California senior regional director.

Castle Mountain National Monument (Photo: Whitehouse.gov)

Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to set aside the areas for protection means that no public comment period, environmental review, or congressional approval will be required to create the new national monuments.

Mojave Trails National Monument (Photo: Whitehouse.gov)

This presidential power has enjoyed bipartisan support since its creation in 1906, with Republican presidents creating 82 national monuments and Democratic presidents 105—among them iconic landscapes such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Denali Mountain Range in Alaska. 

Sand to Snow National Monument (Photo: Whitehouse.gov)

In March 2015, however, House Republicans passed a bill mandating congressional approval before designating new national monuments.  Democrats cast the bill as an anti-environmental measure.

Last week, the Senate narrowly voted to defeat the proposal.

Here’s a look at the three new national monuments:

Mojave Trails National Monument

It preserves 1.6 million acres of desert lands and helps link Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. The lands in the national monument are habitats for threatened desert tortoises, desert bighorn sheep, and many other desert dwellers.

Sand to Snow National Monument

Sand to Snow starts at the Sonoran Desert floor and rises up to Southern California’s tallest mountain, San Gorgonio. The site contains 154,000 acres of diverse landscapes and habitats, including alpine peaks, Joshua tree woodlands, mountain vistas, rivers and wetlands, and desert. The monument includes 25 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as the headwaters of Southern California’s longest river, the Santa Ana.

Castle Mountains National Monument

Castle Mountains is a 20,000-acre missing piece in the northern part of the Mojave National Preserve. The region provides vital habitats for golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats. Castle Mountains offers unparalleled opportunities to study wildlife movements. It is home to sensitive bat species and is a target location for the reintroduction of pronghorn antelope—the second-fastest land mammal in the world.


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