As summer temperatures start to cool down, we’re looking forward to getting back out to the California desert. The National Conservation Lands in the deserts of Southern California include these spectacular national monuments: Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, Carrizo Plain, and Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains. Home to bighorn sheep, hundreds of bird species, and cactus and creosote—along with unparalleled dark night skies for stargazing—these important landscapes are teeming with life.   

Together with our Friends Grassroots Network, we are able to protect these critical landscapes thanks to funding from Edison International, which has supported our community-driven conservation in Southern California since 2013. Our recently awarded grant from Edison International will continue three outstanding projects (now in their third year): Women in Science Discovering our Mojave (WISDOM), Youth Science Adventure, and Inland Empire Community Conservation Connections.

Vibrant plant life in the Sand to Snow National Monument | Photo by Bob Wick

WISDOM, facilitated by our Friends Grassroots Network partner Mojave Desert Land Trust, helps protect endangered wildlife in the Mojave Trails National Monument and boosts engagement for women of color pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). For the past two years, this innovative program has recruited and funded internships for women studying STEM at universities and colleges in Riverside and San Bernardino to gain practical field experience and contribute directly to the future of the Monument. These interns are bringing valuable contributions and changing the face of the conservation movement, as BIPOC women have traditionally been underrepresented in the field and in STEM careers at large. 

WISDOM interns monitor bighorn sheep populations in the Afton Canyon (within the Monument), identify migratory and non-migratory bird species (more than 180 species can be found in the region including vermilion flycatchers, herons, and egrets), and collect data on the night sky and effects of light pollution in the area. In collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management and Mojave Desert Land Trust, this work is advancing an International Dark Sky Sanctuary designation for the Monument. 

Mojave Trails National Monument | Photo by Bob Wick

While college interns conduct this important research at Mojave Trails, younger generations (and budding environmental scientists!) are connecting with nature out at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve through the Youth Science Adventure, a program led by our Friends Grassroots Network partner Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Part of Sand to Snow National Monument, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is one of the rare cottonwood-willow riparian areas in the Mojave Desert and is a gateway to Joshua Tree National Park (in fact, visitation to the Preserve is increasing as Joshua Tree has become increasingly more crowded). 

With this recent grant from Edison International, Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve will provide virtual and onsite resources for K-12 students in the Morongo Unified School District to learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of the region. Both students and families visiting with children are able to hit the trails in the Preserve with “Science Adventure Packs” - educational materials, supplies, and safety tips. Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is also producing videos for at-home learning, creating bilingual materials, and working on new interpretive signage for their garden.

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

The third project funded by Edison International is our Inland Empire Community Conservation Connections program, an initiative aimed at increasing community engagement in the California desert. The Inland Empire is home to more than four million people, and in proximity to millions of acres of outstanding public lands. By growing and enhancing partnerships with a diverse group of community members, it's our goal to strengthen Inland Empire residents’ relationships with the outdoors around them and develop long-term advocates for the National Conservation Lands.

Partners in this effort include BLU Educational Foundation, Outdoor Afro, Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), Rivers and Lands Conservancy, Outward Bound Adventures, California League of Conservation Voters, Latino Outdoors Inland Empire chapter, and Hispanic Access Foundation, alongside institutions such as the San Bernardino County Museum, San Bernardino County Office of Economic Development, and UC Riverside’s Center for Healthy Communities.

The WISDOM, Youth Science Adventure, and Inland Empire Community Conservation Connections programs are all helping us reach new audiences across the Southern California desert and grow future conservation leaders. For all of the students, young people, and community members researching, learning from, and experiencing Afton Canyon to the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and beyond, we are grateful for Edison International's support of these important initiatives. 

Kids connecting to nature (and having fun!) on a trail in Sand to Snow National Monument | Photo by Bob Wick

Learn more about the WISDOM project through this video produced in partnership with the Mojave Desert Land Trust with funding from Edison International

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