Senate Passes Feinstein Bill Completing 25-year Effort to Protect California Desert

Washington February 12, 2019 – The Senate today passed a package of public lands bills that includes the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act, a bill authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to update and expand protections for 716,000 acres of California desert.

“This bill is the completion of a 25-year effort to better manage the California desert,” Feinstein said. “It fulfills the promise I made to off-roaders and environmental groups that we wouldn’t stop with the 1994 bill. More importantly, it shows that by working together we can expand protections for this region while ensuring it remains open for all visitors to enjoy.

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“Teeming with life – from desert tortoises to bighorn sheep, breathtaking wildflower blooms to iconic Joshua trees – few places rival the unique beauty of California’s desert. The desert is a defining part of California’s landscape and we have a responsibility to preserve it for generations to come.”

The legislation builds upon the legacy of the California Desert Protection Act, Senator Feinstein’s landmark legislation passed in 1994 that established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and protected more than 7.6 million acres of California desert wilderness.

In 2016, Senator Feinstein asked President Obama to expand protections for the desert by creating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. Those new public lands will also benefit from this legislation.

This bill would finish efforts started in 1994 to restore and protect the desert and its surrounding communities. The combined acreage of the original legislation, the monument designations and the new legislation represents the largest effort to protect public lands in the lower 48 states. It is the result of years of engagement with a range of stakeholders including local and state government officials, environmental groups, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense and California’s public utility companies.

Key provisions of the legislation:

  • Protects more than 375,000 acres of wilderness: Creates eight new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas totaling 280,360 acres, expands Death Valley National Park Wilderness by 88,000 acres and adds 7,141 acres to the San Gorgonio Wilderness within San Bernardino National Forest.
  • National Park land: Expands Joshua Tree National Park by 4,518 acres and Death Valley National Park by 35,292 acres, which includes 1,600 acres donated by the Mojave Desert Land Trust.
  • Off-highway vehicle recreation areas: Permanently designates six existing off-highway vehicle recreational areas covering more than 200,000 acres, ensuring off-highway enthusiasts will have continued access to those areas to enjoy trail riding while protecting more sensitive areas from vehicle use.
  • Alabama Hills National Scenic Area: Designates 18,610 acres of BLM land in Inyo County as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, preserving it for continued recreation and conservation.
  • Vinagre Wash Special Management Area: Designates 81,800 acres in Imperial County that provides for wilderness preservation, vehicular use on designated routes, and limitations on extractive uses of the land within the management area.
  • Wild and Scenic Rivers: Designates 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.