November 9, 2014

Feinstein to Carry New Desert Conservation Act

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., released a discussion draft Thursday of the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, a bill Feinstein will introduce in January when the new Congress convenes.

The bill builds on Feinstein’s historicCalifornia Desert Protection Act, which became law in 1994. The new legislation is designed to protect additional land and help manage California’s desert resources by carefully balancing conservation, recreation and renewable energy development.

The draft legislation is a consensus document that reflects the many uses of the desert and is the product of years of engagement with relevant stakeholders including environmental groups, local and state government officials, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense, wind and solar energy companies, California’s public utility companies and many others.

The draft bill’s key provisions:

* Creates two new national monuments:

– The Mojave Trails National Monument, which would encompass 942,000 acres of land, including former Catellus-owned lands.

– The Sand to Snow National Monument, which would encompass 135,000 acres of land from desert floor in the Coachella Valley to the top of Mount San Gorgonio.

* Designates five new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness areas covering 235,000 acres.

* Designates 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

* Adds acreage to Death Valley National Park (39,000 acres), Joshua Tree National Park (4,500 acres) and the Mojave National Preserve (30,000 acres).

* Designates four existing BLM Off-Highway Vehicle areas (covering approximately 135,000 acres of California desert) as permanent Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation areas, providing off-highway enthusiasts certainty that these uses will be protected as much as conservation areas.

* Provides a balanced approach to renewable energy development by:

– Requiring the Department of the Interior to exchange 370,000 acres of federal land for state land, allowing the state to use these new areas for commercial purposes including clean energy. The bill also releases 126,000 acres of wilderness land that could be used for renewable energy.

– Allowing for new transmission lines in the Mojave Trails National Monument on existing transmission corridors.

– Sharing with state and local governments the revenue generated from leasing of federal land within the desert.

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