Environment & Science

Obama moves to protect 1.8 million acres of California desert

Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Castle Mountains was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Castle Mountains was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Castle Mountains was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mojave Trails was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mojave Trails was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
Sand to Snow was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mojave Trails was one of three desert areas designated as national monuments on Friday, February 12, 2016.
Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society


President Barack Obama has granted national monument status to nearly 1.8 million acres of Southern California deserts, a move the White House said will maintain in perpetuity the region's fragile ecosystem and natural resources, as well as provide recreational opportunities for hikers, campers, hunters and others.

The White House on Friday released Obama's proclamations establishing the Mojave National Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow national monuments.

The White House said the designations will nearly double the amount of public land that Obama has designated as national monument status since taking office.

"In addition to permanently protecting incredible natural resources, wildlife habitat and unique historic and cultural sites, and providing recreational opportunities for a burgeoning region, the monuments will support climate resiliency in the region ... ," the White House said in a statement.

The designations also connect those regions to other protected government land, including Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and 15 other federal wilderness areas.

Mojave Trails National Monument, at 1.6 million acres, is by far the largest of the three new ones.

Sprawling across the vast Mojave Desert, it contains ancient lava flows, spectacular sand dunes, ancient Native American trading routes and World War II-era training camps. It also contains the largest remaining undeveloped stretch of America's Mother Road, historic Route 66.

Castle Mountains National Monument, also in the Mojave Desert, links two mountain ranges as it covers nearly 21,000 acres that hold numerous important Native American archaeological sites. The area is also home to golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and other wildlife.

Sand to Snow National Monument rises from the floor of the Sonoran Desert to the 11,503-foot peak of Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California's tallest alpine peak.

Its diverse landscape includes the headwaters of the state's Santa Ana and Whitewater rivers and is home to 240 species of birds and 12 endangered or threatened species of wildlife. It also contains an estimated 1,700 Native American petroglyphs and 30 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

The Wilderness Society released a video with aerial footage of the new monuments:

Video

The federal Antiquities Act, adopted in 1906, grants the president the authority to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments.

This story has been updated.