Los Angeles can be an overwhelming place to live, especially for veterans. I often feel as if I’m surrounded by people who cannot relate to my experiences as a soldier in the United States Army. Luckily, I found my refuge and solace just a couple hours away in the California desert.

Being in the desert reminds me of where my military career took me, like the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an environment where I feel equal to my civilian peers, not 10 years behind as I’m still working to catch up in my career since getting out of the military. With the desert as my backdrop, I feel comfortable sharing stories about my deployments and military career. The desert has played an integral role in my transition back to civilian life, both in allowing me solitude to remember my past and giving me the hope and wanderlust needed to create my future. I cannot imagine my life without the California desert.

That is why I cannot abide by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s concerted push to roll back protections on public lands for commercial development. In February, the Trump administration ordered a review of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), designed to balance the conservation of public lands with development of renewable energy in the environmentally-sensitive deserts of California. Experts confirm that the 400,000 acres authorized for development by the DRECP are beyond sufficient to generate enough energy for California to reach its mandate of running on 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The DRECP strikes an appropriate balance between land conservation and developing renewable energy sources like windmills and solar panels. Despite this, the Trump administration claims even more energy development is needed in the desert. By ordering a review of the DRECP, President Trump and Secretary Zinke are effectively opening the land for commercial activities that will close off public access, as would have happened in Juniper Flats if North Peak Wind had been built.

Re-evaluating the already-approved DRECP is a waste of taxpayer dollars and does a disservice to all stakeholders, including industry. The existing plan benefits renewable energy companies by providing access to existing data compiled through the DRECP rather than initiating expensive and lengthy new environmental studies, which helps streamline permit applications in specific, set-aside areas.

The millions of acres under the DRECP’s protection span seven counties and create wildlife corridors linking three national parks, five national forests, three national monuments, and 70 BLM wilderness areas. Jeopardizing the DRECP’s implementation risks the public’s access to millions of acres of lands in California, including national monuments and networks of vehicle trails. If these irreplaceable public lands are open for development, the iconic landscapes of the Mojave and Colorado deserts will be marred, Native American heritage sites will be destroyed, recreation areas will become inaccessible, and sensitive species will be at higher risk to endangerment and extinction through habitat destruction.

The Trump administration has made clear it does not value wilderness and public lands and Secretary Zinke continues to send a strong message that public lands are only valuable for their potential profits and not for their value to America’s heritage.

The existing DRECP is a shining example of achieving the responsible balance of energy production, conservation, and recreational uses of our public lands.

I am disappointed that Secretary Zinke, a fellow veteran, is willing to sacrifice our public lands so easily to the highest bidder, and without regard for the voices of the public. The desert is far too precious.

Allison Bailey is a veteran of the United States Army. She lives in Los Angeles.

This op-ed appeared on June 17, 2018, at vvdailypress.com.

As the owner and operator of the original and largest outdoor adventure and eco-tour company in the California desert, I understand and value the many discoveries that await every guest who boards one of our Desert Adventure Red Jeeps.

The excited and awe-struck reaction from my tour guests always brings me back to the main reason I bought this 30-year-old business eight years ago: to celebrate and share the beauty and majesty of these untouched landscapes. Giving guests a rare look at these magical geological formations, animals and plants that only survive in our California deserts, not to mention the rich historical remnants of our past, is my number one goal on every tour. For this reason, I am concerned that some of these natural treasures may be in danger.

In February, the Trump administration ordered a review of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The DRECP is designed to balance the conservation of public lands with development of renewable energy in the environmentally sensitive deserts of California.

The DRECP strikes an appropriate balance between land conservation and developing renewable energy sources, such as windmills and solar farms. Despite this, the Trump administration claims even more energy development is needed in the desert. By ordering a review of the DRECP, President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are effectively opening the land for commercial activities that could limit public access and hurt the vital tourism economy that is the lifeblood of many desert communities, including our own.

Re-evaluating the already-approved DRECP is a waste of taxpayer dollars and does a disservice to all stakeholders, including industry. The existing plan benefits renewable energy companies by providing access to existing data compiled through the DRECP rather than initiating expensive and lengthy new environmental studies, which helps streamline permit applications in specific, set-aside areas. In fact, experts confirm that the 400,000 acres authorized for development by the DRECP are beyond sufficient to generate enough energy for California to reach its mandate of running on 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The millions of acres under the DRECP’s protection span seven counties and create wildlife corridors linking three national parks, five national forests, three national monuments and 70 BLM wilderness areas. Jeopardizing the DRECP’s implementation risks the public’s access to millions of acres of lands in California, including desert wilderness areas. If these irreplaceable public lands are open for development, the iconic landscapes of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts will be marred, Native American heritage sites will be destroyed, recreation areas will become inaccessible and sensitive species will be at higher risk to endangerment and extinction through habitat destruction.

I am concerned that Secretary Zinke may potentially put our California desert lands in danger. Please join me in preventing this from happening by reaching out to our local representatives and urging them to keep the present DRECP plan intact.

Together, we can protect our precious desert lands.

Bob Schneider is the owner of Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours and Events. He can be reached at bobs@red-jeep.com.

Find the original article online at DesertSun.com.

In my 30 years in public service, one of the most challenging and most rewarding activities was participating in the years-long collaborative effort that resulted in the historic Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The State Lands Commission, which I chair, took part in conversations at hundreds of public meetings about how to balance protection of treasured desert landscapes with the development of renewable energy.

Tens of thousands of individuals and organizations came to the table during this multi-year collaborative process, all working tirelessly to achieve consensus and a balanced approach. This diverse range of stakeholders included state and federal agencies like the California Energy Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as countless local governments, renewable energy companies, businesses, conservation groups, and concerned citizens. The collaboration yielded more than 16,000 public comments about how best to manage our fragile California desert, and the values it provides to our economy and quality of life.

Together, we crafted a plan to help meet California’s ambitious renewable energy goals, while still safeguarding precious desert landscapes. But today, this visionary plan is at risk. Despite widespread support across an incredibly broad group of interests, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently announced that the Administration would reopen DRECP to further changes.

This review is ill-advised and unnecessary because the plan does what it was supposed to do. Our Energy Commission has stated that the proposal allocates sufficient land to “support meeting our renewable energy goals.” There is just no new information that justifies amending the approved plan.

The plan designated uses for more than 10 million acres of the desert, mapping out which lands are best suited for renewable energy development and which are more appropriate for conservation. In designing the proposal, stakeholders considered Native American culture, recreation, and historic values as they carefully incorporated activities such as grazing and mining.

The uncertainty caused by potential changes to the plan can adversely affect investment in the state since it will delay the development of much-needed renewable energy facilities. Reopening the DRECP not only wastes time and resources, but it will stall ongoing renewable energy projects and result in significant costs. No one benefits from this. This is the time we need to be moving forward, not revisiting a blueprint that has an unprecedented level of support and agreement.

California is rightly seen as a leader in the quest for a renewable energy future. It’s something we owe to future generations to ensure they have the power to meet their needs. But we also owe our children and grandchildren the ability to explore and enjoy the beauty and wonder of our public lands. Places like Silurian Valley, with its Paiute settlement remnants, desert springs, and bighorn sheep; and Chuckwalla Bench, which boasts the state’s largest cactus, are natural treasures that should remain untouched.

A future that allows for both of these possibilities was the promise made by the DRECP. It’s critical that we uphold that commitment by keeping the DRECP intact, and safeguard the desert’s treasures for all who come after us.

Betty T. Yee is California State Controller and Chair of the State Lands Commission.

Find the original article online at Bakersfield.com.

Our nation’s public lands are a defining feature of the American West, offering myriad opportunities to explore the great outdoors. While millions of us flock to parks, campgrounds, and recreation areas every year, many of our public lands are also available for other uses such as cattle grazing, mining, and oil drilling. This “multiple use” mandate for areas managed either by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management provides both challenges and opportunities for balancing the nation’s priorities.

One challenge is finding a way for development activities to coexist with conservation efforts — which is complicated by a growing demand for large renewable energy projects on public lands, such as solar or wind farms that can dominate thousands of acres. Solutions require robust public input and a thoughtful approach that weighs renewable energy development with watershed protection, wildlife conservation, and recreation.

In 2016, the Bureau of Land Management finalized a historic plan in California that sought to strike a balance among renewable energy development, conservation and recreation, creating a blueprint that the agency hoped to replicate elsewhere. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) took eight years to develop, was built on more than 16,000 public comments and dozens of open meetings, and is widely heralded in California as a success.

The state supported the desert plan’s contribution to its goal of producing at least 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2026, while many desert residents backed the plan because it minimized the impact of future development and protected key wildlife and open space as “California Desert Conservation Lands.” Places such as the Silurian Valley, just south of Death Valley in the Mojave Desert; Chuckwalla Bench, which stretches from Joshua Tree National Park to the Colorado River; and Mayan Peak, home to a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, are protected under DRECP. Conserving these places and others as part of the plan provides sanctuary for imperiled desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife.

Fast forward to this year, when, at the beginning of February — as the DRECP was in its early phases of implementation — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the Bureau of Land Management will reopen the plan for comments. The move, which could result in significant changes, sent shock waves through the desert and across California. The secretary said the reassessment was needed because the plan did not allow enough renewable energy development, but California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird responded that “reopening the plan is a waste of time and resources that will result in uncertainty, delay and litigation.” The California State Lands Commission passed a resolution opposing the move, saying it could “cause significant confusion, delays, and economic detriment to the State of California in its efforts to site needed renewable facilities.”

It is disappointing that the DRECP, which was developed over years and with strong public support from diverse stakeholder groups, is being reconsidered. Rather than looking to fix something that isn’t broken, the Department of the Interior should continue to collaborate closely with the state of California on the plan’s implementation to maintain its science-based and balanced solutions.

Ken Rait is the director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ western lands initiative.

View the original article online at The Daily Caller.

My work is guided by a vision for a world powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Here in California, we are at the forefront of making that vision a reality for the world’s sixth largest economy and have achieved remarkable progress toward building a 100 percent renewable grid. For example, on Feb. 18, 2018, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) — the state’s independent energy grid operator — determined that over 71 percent of California’s power load was served by renewable resources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and small scale hydro power (under 30 MWs).

Here in the West, we’re fortunate to have wide open landscapes to enjoy for recreation, natural beauty, plentiful sunshine, abundant wind, and rich geothermal resources that can fuel the renewable energy revolution. The pathway to 100 percent renewable energy must include innovative solutions for building the generation and transmission assets needed for a strong low-carbon economy, while protecting the natural landscapes and wildlife of California and the West. These solutions must protect natural lands and wildlife, including those most at risk from climate change. Solutions must also reduce risks and delays in renewable energy and transmission development needed to maintain the steady pace of clean energy and infrastructure deployment. We are seeing many of these solutions unfold in real time as our cities are becoming hubs for electric vehicles, solar, and storage.

That’s why I’m stunned by the Trump administration’s proposal to reopen the landmark Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), an action that would unnecessarily disrupt the thoughtfully crafted blueprint for conservation, renewable energy, transmission, recreation, and other uses, of public land in the California Desert.

The DRECP was developed through an eight-year collaborative process involving local residents and recreation users, federal, state and local government agencies, utilities, renewable energy developers and conservationists. The end result yielded more than 400,000 acres of land where renewable energy development is incentivized. The State of California has confirmed that the plan provides more than enough land to help California achieve its bold renewable energy and climate goals.

Reopening the plan will inject a cloud of destructive uncertainty, and have cascading impacts on the ability to plan and build the energy infrastructure and facilities needed for our 100 percent renewable energy future. The proposal is a waste of time and taxpayer resources that will only result in delay and litigation.

We have a surplus of carbon and a shortage of political will, made clear by this administration’s preference for policies and funding decisions that benefit fossil fuel producers. Instead of re-examining important renewable energy policy and planning innovations, like the DRECP, the administration should be focused on directing resources to effective plan implementation, in order to realize the larger environmental and local economic opportunities that renewable energy and infrastructure investments create.

California is demonstrating that the solutions and tools needed to build a low carbon economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy exist. Now we need to ensure certainty to communities, planners, investors and energy project developers that we are able to put the plan to work and build out the clean energy future our children and grandchildren deserve. That’s what the current DRECP is designed to do. Let’s move forward, not backward, and let the plan work.

Angelina Galiteva is the Founder and Board Chair of Renewables 100 Policy Institute and a Board Member of the California Independent System Operator. Her industry experience includes serving as Executive Director of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as head of its Green LA, Environmental Affairs and New Product Development Organization. 

Find the original article online at The Hill.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which was finalized in 2016, provided historic conservation protections for public lands in California and a precedent-setting blueprint for how to balance energy development with conservation on our nation’s public lands.

Local stakeholders, as well as thousands of citizens from throughout California and across the country, provided input over a multi-year process to shape the final plan.

The plan represents a historic effort to thread a conservation needle: How to significantly increase our renewable energy capacity in a state ambitiously pursuing its climate-change goals while mitigating the massive and irreversible impacts of that development on one of California’s most sensitive ecosystems, the California desert. But the Trump administration recently decided to open the conservation plan to revision. It’s the latest in a string of ruthless attacks on California’s federal public lands and the millions of Americans who value them.

The California desert presents a great opportunity for the state to meet its ambitious goal of getting 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Designation of land for these large-scale renewable projects — including wind, solar, and geothermal energy — reduces the normally long planning processes and litigation on individual projects.

The plan was the result of an eight-year public process of negotiation. In the end, it helped steer the management of 22.5 million acres, 10.8 million acres of which are federally managed and covered by the Trump administration’s reopening of the DRECP.

Of that federal public land, 380,000 acres were designated for renewable energy and another 800,000 acres are potentially available, although they require special permitting processes.

The lands open to energy development are places where native plants and wildlife would be least affected. This is a victory for commonsense, farsighted, balanced planning.

The plan also allocated 3.5 million acres for various recreational uses, recognizing the wide-ranging recreational opportunities the California desert provides. The plan was especially careful to protect off-highway vehicle recreation areas from energy development. Conversely, all recreation is eliminated in areas that are designated for wind or solar energy.

Finally, over 6.5 million acres received a variety of conservation designations. Landscapes protected by the plan comprise some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant places in the California desert.

They include Chuckwalla Bench, the Silurian Valley, Panamint Valley, Yuha Desert, Chemehuevi Valley and a long list of other wild lands essential to the continued survival of such iconic wildlife species as the bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Setting aside swaths of valuable habitat for wildlife is an essential mitigation for the over 1,843 square miles that could potentially be developed under the plan.

The Trump administration’s reopening of this historic conservation and energy development plan was an insult to the countless stakeholders who participated in the long and arduous public review process. Worse, it undermines our faith in the value and benefit of collaboration and compromises with the federal government at all.

Now that the public comment period has passed, we hope that all Californians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, our congressional delegation and the state Legislature, will resist any significant changes to the conservation plan. Our priceless desert landscapes deserve nothing less.

Ryan Henson is senior policy director for California Wilderness Coalition, an Oakland-based group that works to protect, restore and promote responsible enjoyment of the Golden State’s wildest remaining public lands. 

View the original article online at Mercury News.

It looks like a barren no man’s land, but the vast desert outside Indio, Calif., has many suitors.

Conservationists see its acres of creosote bush and cholla cactus as a rare habitat for tortoises, pronghorn antelope and an elusive variety of mule deer. Energy companies view its sunbaked plains and windswept ridgelines as prime perches for solar panels and wind turbines. Dirt tracks that wiggle across its sandy washes are testament to its popularity among off-road motorsports enthusiasts.

Until last year, all parties had reached something of an accord. Obama-era rules ensured that portions of California’s sunniest public lands would be reserved for conservation; other parts set aside for large-scale solar, wind and geothermal development and mining; and other sections designated for recreation.

But that delicate peace among competing interests could be upended.

In a stunning reversal, President Trump one year ago ordered the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to reopen study of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and consider shrinking the areas it protects and expanding lands available for solar, wind, broadband infrastructure, mining, off-road vehicles and grazing.

Now, stakeholders are once again vying for control of some of the most sensitive and sought-after lands in the state — and the winners could determine whether California’s deserts become a hub for energy production at the expense of their unique plants and animals.

“Hornets are swarming because someone in Washington poked a hive in the California desert with a stick,” Greg Suba, conservation director for the California Native Plant Society, said. “We were making progress in striking a balance between development and conservation. Now, we’re spending all our time, energy and resources on dealing with chaos where there wasn’t any just a little while ago. It’s such a waste.”

The Obama administration spent eight years and considered more than 14,000 public comments in developing its plan for wind and solar projects and conservation. Unveiled in 2016, it set aside 3.9 million acres to be permanently protected, including the Silurian Valley and the Chuckwalla Bench. Another 1.4 million acres were designated areas of critical environmental concern. And 388,000 acres were designated appropriate for commercial-scale renewable energy projects.

Trump’s executive order directs the Bureau of Land Management to review all actions that could “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources” on public lands. A subsequent executive order, issued in January, directs the bureau to foster rural broadband infrastructure projects in the areas.

Though the Obama plan had its critics, including green energy advocates who wanted more available land for development, the downright angry mood at ongoing public meetings intended to solicit comments on Trump’s action suggests a thorny path ahead for the BLM.

The opening remarks of BLM officials at a recent meeting in the Owens Valley community of Lone Pine left conservationists including Michael Prather, a botanist, seething: People are encouraged to submit comments in writing, with the caveat that the volume of comments received by the agency will not determine their importance.

“This system is rigged!” he shouted.

State leaders opposed to Trump’s action include U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, California Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas and the California State Lands Commission — all of whom believe it could hurt clean energy development by triggering drawn-out legal battles across 350 miles of California desert.

“Had the state been consulted,” Douglas said in an interview, “we would have informed the federal government that reopening the plan will only serve to create uncertainty and unneeded delays for renewable energy projects on public lands.”

Tom Egan, California desert representative for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, summarized the concerns of many conservationists this way: “Reopening the plan in places such as Chuckwalla Bench means green energy, mining, corporate investors, grazing and off-roaders win. Conservation loses.”

Trump’s move was a surprise to many, and a happy one for green-energy advocates, who contend that concerns about environmental damage are exaggerated and remind critics that the power they provide can help fight global warming.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan “fell short when it came to renewable energy by designating only a fraction of the area for development and ruling most of the remainder off-limits to renewable in perpetuity,” said Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-scale Solar Assn. It also “established exceedingly onerous siting requirements which make it difficult — if not impossible — for projects to build in areas designated for development.”

Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Assn., said her industry would “welcome the opportunity to revisit how wind is treated.”

“We are extremely unhappy with the existing plan, which prohibits wind energy production in most of the windiest areas in the desert,” she said.

County officials are only beginning to fathom the consequences of conflicts in desert lands that could be economically beneficial, or costly and bitterly contested.

A big concern in rural Inyo County — home to about 18,000 people as well as blue-ribbon trout streams, stark rock formations, marshlands and desert plains — is that new wind and solar projects on adjacent public lands would infringe on its own plans for where such facilities will be tolerated.

Kern County, a state leader in energy production on private land, argues that more wind development on public lands “is unnecessary for achieving renewable energy goals in the West.”

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors, however, has complained that the Obama administration’s plan inhibits economic growth and job creation by making energy projects too costly to build.

Criticism is not new to the BLM, which is obligated not simply to preserve the lands it administers, but make them productive as well. Those who contend it is too deferential to cattle ranchers and prospectors have long mocked the agency as the “Bureau of Livestock and Mining,” though ranchers often grumble about the arrogant “Bureau of Land Mismanagement.”

Critics both in and out of the BLM say the fault isn’t with its employees, but with the oscillating policies of an agency whipsawed by the shifting notions of presidential administrations and their appointees.

“The BLM has plenty of terrific lifetime public servants,” Frazier Haney, conservation director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said. “But at the end of the day, big land decisions are often not up to them, but to presidential administrations and high-level political appointees who can’t seem to make up their minds.”

Jerome Perez, the BLM’s California state director, would not go that far. “Each administration has its own priorities,” he said in an interview. “So, we’ll be taking a hard look” at the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

Things in the desert got even more uncertain last week when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee in charge of the BLM, stunned an audience at an annual energy conference in Houston by saying wind turbines have a “significant” carbon footprint and “chop up” thousands of birds each year. Solar projects, he added, are not compatible with wildlife, recreation or hunting.

The next day, however, Zinke announced that he had partnered with Congress on a proposed bipartisan bill to fund national park restoration projects with $18 billion in revenue derived from energy produced on public lands. It remains to be seen whether the bill, if approved, could serve as an inducement for investments in solar and wind projects.

This month, Zinke announced that the BLM would ease mining restrictions on 1.3 million acres of desert where it had been more tightly regulated, including public lands bordering Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks.

Now, conservationists worry that industrial mining interests may push for road construction in areas of untrammeled wilderness.

At stake is some of the most vulnerable land in the state, such as the Chuckwalla Bench, an 800,000-acre expanse of cactus gardens and sandy washes fringed with ironwood and paloverde trees and framed by the Chuckwalla and Chocolate mountain ranges.

It has been used for grazing and as an off-road vehicle course. Mule deer — including the rare burro deer — and tortoises come to the area, about an hour east of Indio, for life-giving shade and occasional pools of rainwater. Prairie falcons and long-eared owls feed on rodents scampering over still-visible tracks left by Gen. George Patton’s tanks at a training camp during World War II.

In 1986, the BLM named the Chuckwalla Bench an “area of critical environmental concern.” The Obama-era plan added an extra layer of protection by designating a large portion of the region “national conservation lands,” not available for development. Such safeguards propelled a plan to establish a herd of federally endangered Sonoran pronghorn, a species not seen in California since 1945, there next year.

Now its future is uncertain.

Standing on a rocky crag overlooking the landscape of so much beauty and strife, Egan, of Defenders of Wildlife, shook his head and said, “The problem is that this relatively flat stretch of desert is ideal for pronghorn antelopes, as well as renewable energy development — but not both.”

Find the original article online at LaTimes.com.

Starting Friday, the Trump Administration is opening more than a million acres of desert lands in Southern California to possible new mining claims. The lands had formerly been set aside for conservation, and the move comes as the economy of the rural West is becoming less dependent on extracting natural resources and more on tourism.

Most of the federal lands affected are in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and some directly border Joshua Tree National Park, an increasingly important economic driver for surrounding communities.

“It’s crazy the timing,” said Breanne Dusastre, director of marketing at the 29 Palms Inn, just outside the park. “We in these little rural communities have built up these powerful economies, and yet there seems to be proposals for actions to be taken that would harm that.”

Like many national parks, Joshua Tree had its busiest year ever in 2017. More than 2.8 million people wandered the boulder strewn trails, taking selfies in front of Joshua Trees, cholla and other desert plants. Visitorship is more than double what it was five years ago.

And when they weren’t hiking, the National Park Service says visitors spent more than $120 million annually on lodging and food in nearby communities like Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of tourism-related jobs in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties grew by 70 percent between 1998 and 2015.

 

Meanwhile, mining’s importance to the regional economy shrank. In that same time period, the number of mining jobs in the two counties decreased by 14 percent.

And it’s not only in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Nationally, the Commerce Department reports the outdoor recreation industry was valued at $373 billion in 2016. Mining was nearly four times smaller: $99 billion.

These numbers make Ray Rasker, who heads the non-partisan, Montana-based research group Headwaters Economics, question the logic behind the Trump Administration’s decision to allow mining on once-protected public lands near a national park.

“Finding a community or a county in the West that is heavily reliant on natural resource development is a rare thing,” he said. “So why would you devise policy based on the exception to the rule and ignore where most of the economy is headed?”

Bureau of Land Management staff say they are following the president’s executive orders to unencumber energy production on federal lands and ensure a domestic supply of critical minerals. They also aren’t expecting that many new mining claims.

In 2016, the Obama Administration banned new mining claims on 1.3 million acres of National Conservation Lands in the California desert, considered the among most pristine of all BLM lands. But Jerry Perez, the BLM State Director for California, said after subsequent analysis, there wasn’t much interest in mining on the conservation lands. Just 19,500 acres are suitable for mining. So instead of banning it outright on all 1.3 million acres, BLM is going to take applications on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Chuck Bell, head of the Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association, supports opening the land to mining claims. He said it’s a matter of national security.

“We as a nation have to be able to produce our basic stuff here just in case,” he said.

In Lucerne Valley, the economy is still visibly connected to mining. Ten miles outside of town, the Mitsubishi Cement Corporation carves limestone out of a large open pit mine and heats it with aluminum and iron ore, creating fine cement powder. The mine employs 150 people, pays $1.2 million in property taxes to the county, and gives scholarships to local kids.

“That mining is critical,” Bell said. “We would be nothing without them. Absolutely nothing.”

But there just aren’t that many places like Lucerne Valley left in rural Southern California. The Trump Administration’s decision to allow new mining claims on conservation lands could be seen as a way to turn back the clock. This sentiment is visible on bumper stickers that say “Make Mining Great Again.”

You can see them on pick-up trucks around the town of Joshua Tree, at a time when its coffee shops and yoga studios increasingly cater to tourists.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Find the original article online at SCPR.org.

Over the last year, Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has placed a bulls-eye target on the California desert, with our national parks, monuments, water, wildlife and sacred wild spaces at its center. Zinke’s first year of actions would undermine over 40 years of progress and have placed over 6 million acres of desert lands in harm’s way.

Zinke’s policies are out of step with realities on the ground and undercut genuine partnerships between communities and some of the local staff at National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. Those managers and scientists know and love this land but have been marginalized. The legacy and economy we have built protecting our beautiful world-renowned landscape is working — yet, it is threatened in a way we haven’t before experienced.

Last year, Zinke included Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow National Monuments in his review of 27 national treasures considered for potential management and — illegal — boundary changes. While Zinke reportedly “saved” Sand to Snow, the fate of Mojave Trails remains in limbo with some members of Congress urging Zinke to reduce the monument by more than 500,000 acres to benefit the Cadiz Inc. water mining project.

Castle Mountains National Monument, a stunning, wildlife-rich national park site adjacent to Mojave National Preserve and part of the world’s largest Joshua Tree forest, was also targeted in Zinke’s recommendations report.

Regarding the Cadiz Inc. water proposal, despite the National Park Service and United States Geological Survey questioning the company’s science, Zinke eliminated required federal review. The project would pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater annually from underneath the Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument.

Recent polling that California voters — by a more than 3-to-1 margin — agree the project will harm the national park and monument. Thankfully, California leadership including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Native American tribes, and the environmental community support AB 1000, state legislation requiring the scientific review the federal government recently exempted Cadiz from.

Our California desert national parks are welcoming record-setting numbers of visitors eager to experience our stark and stunning landscapes, wildlife, sunsets, night sky, and open space.

Unfortunately, Zinke has recommended placing a premium on these experiences, with a proposal to nearly triple entrance fees to Joshua Tree and 16 other national parks, during their busiest seasons. In 2016 alone, 2.5 million people visited Joshua Tree, supporting more than 1,700 local jobs and spending over $123 million in surrounding communities.

Last month, at the surprise of state and federal officials and desert communities, the Department of Interior reopened the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The plan was the result of an exhaustive and science-driven eight-year process between federal, local, and state government, energy producers, conservationists, and recreationists. Reopening the plan threatens the interests of all the parties who worked to carefully balance the plan to ensure the coexistence of conservation, recreation, and development. Public comment is currently being accepted on this process, and some 20,000 people weighed in through the planning process before overwhelmingly supporting the plan.

There is no appetite in desert communities for this plan to be re-opened.

We must stand up and work together to protect our desert. It is our generation’s responsibility to protect what has been given to us, and to safely deliver it to the generations to come.

David Lamfrom is the California Desert Director for National Parks Conservation Association.

This article originally appeared online at DesertSun.com.

The Trump administration is poised to gut protections gained in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan for millions of acres of California desert recreation and conservation lands to expand access for industrial energy projects, mining and off-highway vehicle recreation. We’ve worked too hard, too long and spoken too clearly to allow the Department of Interior to roll back conservation protections. It is critical that we stand firm to demonstrate our commitment for hard-won protections!

The Bureau of Land Management is hosting a scoping meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at the Joshua Tree Community Center. A strong turnout will be a powerful demonstration to the administration of our opposition to amending the DRECP. Our community wants more, not less, public land protected from development. There should be no further changes to the allocations of conservation, recreational or renewable energy designations in this comprehensive plan.

Local residents see the degradation of the Basin’s air quality from existing solar developments. When the desert crust is scraped and vegetation removed, the winds blow dust along sand transport paths. The effects are permanent and cannot be mitigated. Rural residential areas need protection to ensure quality of life. Expanding the development focus areas adjacent to communities and along the STPs endangers public health and is contrary to the expressed interests of San Bernardino desert residents.

During the eight-year process of developing the DRECP, stakeholders labored to determine the future of renewable energy development in the California desert. The current administration now claims that reopening the DRECP is pro-environment, claiming that opening up more lands is needed for wind and solar if California is to meet its goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. However, the state energy commission has stated there is sufficient land in the plan to support meeting that goal.

The DRECP resulted in a compromised balance of interests and largely embraced as workable. The Trump administration’s real goal is to reduce land set aside for conservation and to reverse the Obama legacy.

The BLM will present information at the scoping meeting, but will not be accepting oral comments from the public. However, after the public meeting, a number of organizations will be hosting a panel discussion to answer questions, help you develop your comments, and provide an opportunity to give oral testimony.

We can’t let our guard down with the fragile, irreplaceable Mojave at stake. We must keep up our vigil. The Department of Interior is posing a true threat to the health of our communities and to the desert landscapes and ecosystems where we live and thrive.

Whether or not you can make the meeting, it is critical to send comments to the BLM by the March 22 deadline, to: BLM-California State Director, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825, or electronically: BLM_CA_DRECP@blm.gov. If you cannot make tonight’s scoping meeting in Joshua Tree, consider attending from 5 to 7 p.m. March 7 at the UC Riverside Palm Desert Center auditorium, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, Palm Desert, CA 92211.

Sarah Kennington is the president of the Morongo Basin 
Conservation Association.

Find the original article online at hidesertstar.com.