Sen. Dianne Feinstein reintroduced legislation on Tuesday that will designate different areas of the Mojave Desert for recreation and environmental conservation, including a new national monument along Route 66 east of Ludlow.
Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection Act last year but was not able to get it passed before the end of 2010. One of the biggest changes to the bill is the elimination of a renewable energy section. Instead, the bill will separate the land conservation from the renewable energy portion and will leave the renewable energy to other agencies.
The Department of the Interior has proposed that about 350,000 acres in the Mojave Desert be designated as Solar Study Areas, or lands for renewable energy projects, said Laurel Williams, deputy conservation director for the California Wilderness Coalition. None of the 1.6 million acres that were named under the bill for increased protection are included in the lands that have been designated for renewable energy projects, said Williams.
Feinstein said in a statement that she felt land that was supposed to be used for conservation of natural resources should not be used for development.
"We know that we must do more to advance renewable energy, but we must also be careful where we decide to permit these projects," said Feinstein.
If passed, the bill proposed for 2011 will create the Mojave Trails National Monument, which will be about 941,000 acres of protected land east of Ludlow. The bill will also create the Sand to Snow National Monument north of Interstate 10 near Banning and add additional land to Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve.
Other aspects of the bill include designating five new wilderness areas, designating 250,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas near Fort Irwin, and designating four areas in the California desert currently used for off-highway vehicle use as permanent.
One member of a conservation agency said he thinks the bill will help protect the beauty of the Mojave Desert as well as honor the history of Route 66.
"What I believe is most powerful about the bill is that it honors the most beautiful natural places throughout the desert while also honoring our history of Route 66," said David Lamfrom, California Desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
While conservationists approved of the proposed bill, other local residents who enjoy offroading in the desert are more wary of the bill, even though it proposes permanent off-highway vehicle areas.
"Overall, it's like they're telling us they're going to give us some (land), but at the same time they're taking it away," said Mike McCain, Barstow resident and member of the American Motorcyclist Association. "It should be named the Feinstein Wilderness Act."
McCain said he felt the government did not have enough resources to close the land, and should be opening it up for more people to use for activities such as offroading.
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