For the better part of a decade, California Senator Dianne Feinstein has tried to no avail to protect more than 1.8 million acres of stunning desert wilderness in the Golden State. On Feb. 12, she received a helping hand with a little executive power from President Barack Obama.
"The effort to preserve the California desert has been a long one, and today is a major milestone," Feinstein said in a statement. "This kind of landscape is so much a part of what the West once was, and these monuments are icons of our cultural heritage. Simply put, the California desert is a national treasure. This designation only reaffirms that fact."
Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which empowers presidents to designate "objects of historic and scientific interest" on federal land as national monuments, President Obama acted unilaterally to create three new monuments: the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains. With these additions (which raises the list of national monuments in the U.S. to 120), Obama has protected 265 million acres of land and water, more than any other president.
"Our country is home to some of the most beautiful God-given landscapes in the world," Obama said in a statement. "We’re blessed with natural treasures – from the Grand Tetons to the Grand Canyon; from lush forests and vast deserts to lakes and rivers teeming with wildlife. And it’s our responsibility to protect these treasures for future generations, just as previous generations protected them for us."
Take a brief glimpse at our nation's newest national monuments below.
Mojave Trails National Monument
Covering more than 1.6 million acres, the Mojave Trails National Monument links the Mojave National Preserve to Joshua Tree National Park. It features rugged desert landscapes, unspoiled underground springs, and cultural sites sacred to Native Americans. The region also serves as a refuge for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and fringe-toed lizards.
Castle Mountains National Monument
Home to golden eagles, Joshua trees, gila monsters and juniper forests, the Castle Mountains National Monument spans 21,000 acres. According to the Desert Sun, the region's high altitude and monsoonal rains gives it a level of plant and animal diversity not seen anywhere in the California desert.
Sand to Snow National Monument
Joining 100,000 acres of congressionally approved protected land, the Sand to Snow National Monument protects 154,000 acres. In addition to hosting the region's tallest alpine mountain, this diverse ecological wonder is also home to more than 240 species of birds. According to Californiadesert.org, the region also acts as a critical wildlife corridor for "mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, bighorn sheep, and desert tortoise."