Our Past, Present, and Future are Linked in the California Desert

Frazier Haney
|October 30, 2020

Around this time of year, when the moon is in one of its newer (smaller) phases, I head out to the Cadiz Valley in the California Desert’s Mojave Trails National Monument to stargaze. When nighttime falls, I climb to the top of a sand dune in the center of the Valley and stare up at the sky. Nothing blocks my view—no buildings, no city lights. Even the surrounding mountains are too far away to obscure the sky. All I can see are stars, and both the view and the solitude are restorative.

The Cadiz Valley in Mojave Trails National Monument at dusk. Photo by Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management.

I know that many of us have treasured memories from time spent in the California Desert. But without a landmark event 26 years ago, we would not be able to experience our favorite places in this important region.

October 31st marks the 26th anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act. Authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein in 1994, the Act created the iconic Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, the Mojave National Preserve, and 74 wilderness areas. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the hardworking community members—many of whom were volunteers—that gave so much to the effort. They sacrificed time with family, worked late nights, drove many miles, and fought hard at public meetings to see that the California Desert remained as one of North America’s most intact ecological systems. A celebration of the Act is inherently a recognition of this vision, effort, and self-sacrifice.

The Act also catalyzed many more conservation measures that followed in subsequent years. Today, the California Desert is home to four national parks, four national monuments, and the California Desert National Conservation Lands, which include millions of acres of public lands designated specifically for recreation and protection of cultural, historical and biological treasures. My favorite place to stargaze—the Mojave Trails National Monument—was one such designation that followed in the years after the Act became law. Without the Act, this National Monument designation would not have been possible.

Not only did the Act galvanize further activism and protections for the state’s desert public lands, but it has helped ensure that big, intact desert landscapes can help our state better address the climate crisis.

For decades, scientists have touted forests’ ability to remove carbon from our air, which reduces impacts of burning fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas) that contribute to climate change. But more recently we’ve learned that our deserts also have a tremendous ability to help fight climate change—they just do it below ground. 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.

Vegetation in the Cadiz Valley (pictured) and throughout the California Desert helps capture carbon from the atmosphere, which in turns helps mitigate climate change. Photo by Jack Thompson.

The California Desert Protection Act and subsequent protections for desert public lands have also helped safeguard vital wildlife corridors, which help species become more resilient to our changing climate. For example, the Mojave Trails National Monument is a wildlife corridor that connects Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve and 13 wilderness areas. This connectivity between diverse habitats allows bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and fringe-toed lizards to travel to new, more favorable areas as the climate continues to change.

A fringe-toed lizard in the California Desert’s Cadiz Valley. Photo: Kyle Sullivan/Bureau of Land Management.

Thankfully, we’re learning more and more about how protecting public lands is one of the best ways we can address climate change. I continue to be grateful for the California Desert Protection Act and all that’s been protected in this special place since.

With another historic event on the horizon in just a few days (Election Day!), I hope you’ll join me in voting for leaders who are willing to take action to address climate change. And if you need a reminder of what’s at stake, I suggest thinking back to a time when you’ve experienced the beauty of our public lands—whenever and wherever that may have been.

For me, recalling the vast, starry sky in the California desert always reminds me of how important it is to ensure places like this are here for future generations to enjoy. So today, let’s celebrate the anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act, and let’s carry this legacy forward by continuing to protect this area into the future.

About The Wildlands Conservancy
The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC) is dedicated to preserving the beauty and biodiversity of the earth and to providing programs so that children may know the wonder and joy of nature.

In working to achieve this mission, TWC has established the largest nonprofit nature preserve system in California, comprising nineteen preserves with 156,000 acres of diverse mountain, valley, desert, river, and oceanfront landscapes. These preserves are open to the public free of charge for passive recreation, including camping, hiking, picnicking, birding, and more.

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    Frazier Haney published this page in Latest News 2020-10-30 11:11:17 -0600