President Obama designated three new national monuments in the California desert Thursday, expanding federal protection to 1.8 million acres of landscapes that have retained their natural beauty despite decades of heavy mining, cattle ranching and off-roading.
The designation was requested by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who for a decade has sought to protect land that wasn’t included in the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. That measure covered nearly 7.6 million acres, elevated Death Valley and Joshua Tree to national park status and created the Mojave National Preserve.
Unable to gain momentum on her California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act last year, Feinstein and conservation groups asked Obama to act unilaterally to create the three monuments overlapping biological zones between roughly Palm Springs and the Nevada border.
The areas embrace volcanic spires, dunes, ribbons of wetlands wedged between steep canyon walls, grasslands, Joshua tree forests, historic roadways and petroglyphs. They are home to species that thrive despite withering heat and scant rainfall: bighorn sheep, tortoises, fringe-toed lizards and more than 250 types of birds.
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