Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of Our California Desert National Monuments

Maricela Rosales & Frazier Haney
|February 12, 2021

Happy 5th Anniversary to three National Monuments in the California Desert: the Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, and Castle Mountains National Monument!
In honor of their designation anniversaries, Maricela, CLF’s CA Associate Program Director, asked Frazier Haney a few questions about how these National Monuments protect critical habitats and mitigate impacts from climate change. We also discussed why protecting these landscapes is a crucial part of California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) - and why we’re urging the Biden Administration to leave this plan intact.
Frazier Haney is the Executive Director of The Wildlands Conservancy. Frazier was deeply involved in these Monument designations and has led many other conservation efforts in the California Desert.

Maricela: What drew you to be so passionate about this area and designating the California Desert National Monuments?

Frazier: These three National Monuments were designated by President Obama on February 12, 2016, and each of them is unique. Mojave Trails is my favorite place to stargaze - the night sky views there are unparalleled. Sand to Snow is one of the most diverse landscapes in our state and in the nation and includes Southern California’s tallest alpine peak, Mount San Gorgonio. Castle Mountains in the eastern Mojave Desert features a series of stunning peaks, and its wildflower season in March and April is particularly spectacular.

Mojave Trails National Monument. Credit: John Dittli.

Sand to Snow National Monument. Credit: Bob Wick.

Castle Mountains National Monument. Credit: Mason Cummings.

Maricela: I've actually heard the same thing about the wildflower season. I'm hoping to see it in the near future. Knowing that these landscapes are rich in flora and fauna biodiversity, how do they help protect critical habitats and mitigate climate change in the California Desert?

Frazier: These National Monuments were designated in part because these lands provide vital habitat to many desert species, some of which don’t exist anywhere else in the world. This includes Joshua trees, bighorn sheep, and many others.

Our deserts also have a tremendous ability to fight climate change. Desert plants capture carbon and send it into the soil and their roots. As a result, protecting vegetation helps safeguard the desert’s natural ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere. These protected lands also provide wildlife corridors between diverse habitats, which allow bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and fringe-toed lizards to travel to new, more favorable areas as the climate continues to change.

Maricela: Wow! You're right, our deserts do have a tremendous ability to fight climate change. Can you further expand on how these three National Monuments and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) play a key part in our state’s efforts to address climate change?

Frazier: Yes, this is really important. The National Monuments are one piece of the puzzle to protect California Desert public lands. Another critical piece is the DRECP, a land use plan designed to balance conservation, recreation, and renewable energy development on more than 10.5 million acres of lands in the California Desert. Unfortunately, on his way out of office, Mr. Trump initiated an amendment to the plan that, if not rescinded, will remove protections and the public’s access to more than two million acres of National Conservation Lands, opening them to extractive industries.

It’s vital that we continue to safeguard public lands in the Desert–by conserving these important landscapes in their natural state and keeping the DRECP intact. We are looking to President Biden to withdraw Trump’s proposal to amend the DRECP. If we are serious about fighting climate change, we must protect Desert public lands long into the future.

Maricela: I couldn't agree more. As a community of conservationists, it's important that we protect, expand, and increase support for the California Desert for future generations. We need the biodiversity of these places to thrive in order for the adjacent communities and planet to stay resilient.

Thank you for your time, Fraizer, and for chatting with me on the fifth anniversary of the CA Desert National Monuments.