On April 26, President Trump signed an executive order instructing the Department of the Interior to review the designation of more than two dozen national monuments.
This action immediately jeopardizes two California desert national monuments designated in 2016: Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails. These remote and unique ecosystems are the ancestral home to the Mojave, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla, Cocopah, Quechan and other desert peoples who have inhabited and stewarded the lands since time immemorial.
These lands contain artifacts, rock art panels, sacred sites, and ancestral remains — all material representations of our peoples’ handprints and footprints across our California homeland. The extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna found within these national monuments has been used by our ancestors for centuries, and continues to be accessed, for subsistence, medicine and the production of clothing, housing and basketry.
What’s more, the area remains a pristine desert landscape. The dark night sky in the Mojave Desert is a stunning sight abundant with stars, bright planets and the wide dusty ribbon of the Milky Way. The desert also provides endless opportunities for recreation, ranging from camping and hiking to 4x4 touring and stargazing.
It is a habitat considered critical for the survival of the endangered desert tortoise. Over the past century, desert tortoises have been decimated by habitat loss, trampling, shootings, vehicle strikes, disease, collecting, relocation efforts and predation by ravens, coyotes and dogs.
The wide-ranging uses and priorities of stakeholders make it incumbent upon the Interior Secretary and Department of Interior to conduct a thorough review to address the needs and concerns of these diverse communities, from tribal governments to conservationists to off-roaders.
The importance of conserving these monuments for the benefit of future generations demands that we, as Californians, ensure our needs and concerns are heard.
Please join groups such as the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (www.TASIN.org) to request that the Secretary maintain the existing designation and boundaries for the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments, and to extend the Department’s review period to allow sufficient time to properly consult with all impacted stakeholders and evaluate the national monuments in the thorough and deliberate manner they deserve. The deliberations that led to the designation of the 27 monuments under review collectively took scores of years — it is not realistic to conduct an adequate review in only 120 days.
In the case of Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow, several tribes weighed in to support the designations, as did thousands of other stakeholders including elected officials, Latino leaders, business organizations and owners, veterans, clergy members, historians, archaeologists, scientists, artists and conservation organizations. The record of support from these stakeholders is impressive and should weigh heavily in any decision made by the Department of Interior about our California Desert monuments.
There are myriad ways to have your comments heard, but here is just one that might make sense: the Mojave Desert Land Trust has set up a page at www.mdlt.org/desert-defenders to collect comments to submit to the Department of the Interior.
The comment period ends Monday. Please make sure your voice on behalf of protecting our shared public lands is heard.
Brian McDonald is a member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and Vice Chair for the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. He lives in La Quinta.