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.