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CA leaders announce bill to create Chuckwalla National Monument and expand Joshua Tree National Park

A new bill to create the Chuckwalla National Monument and expand Joshua Tree National Park was introduced by state lawmakers at a news conference on Tuesday.

This bill would establish a new Chuckwalla National Monument in eastern Imperial and Riverside counties to protect approximately 627,855 acres of California’s vast desert landscape.

It would also expand Joshua Tree National Park by approximately 17,915 acres of previously designated public lands, as recommended by the National Park Service, lawmakers said.

U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler (both D-Calif.) and Representative Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.-25) also urged President Joe Biden to use his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the monument.

“Our proposal reflects the input of tribal leaders who have fought for years to protect these sacred landscapes, and from our partners in the energy industry who worked with us to carefully craft the Monument’s boundaries to ensure we can meet our shared clean energy goals," Padilla said.

“The Chuckwalla National Monument is good for the environment, the economy, and the public’s health. It aims to protect pristine wildlife habitats, endangered plants and animals, and sacred sites of significant spiritual importance to local tribes, crucial for their cultural preservation. Additionally, it will enhance tourism and economic opportunities in our region and provide a new venue for constituents to hike, bike, and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes and natural beauty of our desert. This monument will play an important role in addressing California’s and our nation’s climate change goals while promoting the growth of renewable energy. I am thrilled that we have reached this milestone together and call on President Biden to use the Antiquities Act to expedite the creation of the monument,” Ruiz said.

The lands within the proposed national monument include the homelands of the Iviatim, Nüwü, Pipa Aha Macav, Kwatsáan, and Maara’yam peoples (Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Mojave, Quechan, and Serrano nations). Designating the Chuckwalla National Monument would help to protect important spiritual and cultural values tied to the land such as multi-use trail systems established by Indigenous peoples, sacred sites and objects, traditional cultural places, geoglyphs, petroglyphs, pictographs, and native plants and wildlife.

“For thousands of years, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians have called the lands in the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument home,” said Chairman Thomas Tortez Jr. of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. “The area contains thousands of cultural places and objects of vital importance to the history and identity of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. We strongly support the designation of the Chuckwalla National Monument and thank Senator Alex Padilla and Representative Raul Ruiz for championing this effort.”

Officials said the protection of the public lands would help ensure more equitable access to nature for eastern Coachella Valley communities and surrounding areas. The vast desert landscape included in the monument proposal is popular for outdoor recreation activities like hiking and rock climbing. It's also home to habitats critical for the survival of the Chuckwalla lizard and the endangered desert tortoise.

Some popular trails and places of interest that would be protected as part of the monument include Painted Canyon and Box Canyon in the Mecca Hills area, Corn Springs campground, and the Bradshaw Trail. 

Officials added that the proposed monument would be critical to California’s efforts to fight climate change and conserve biodiversity. Given the size of the monument, it would contribute significantly to state and federal commitments to protect at least 30 percent of public lands and coastal waters by 2030.

"Protecting these public lands in the desert helps provide a buffer for present-day military installations from development that may interfere with military operations," officials wrote in a news release.

The proposed Chuckwalla National Monument upholds and supports the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which identified areas suitable for renewable energy development as well as lands that should be safeguarded for their biological, cultural, recreation, and other values.

The proposed monument does not conflict with the development of renewable energy and, in fact, the monument boundaries were specifically drawn to avoid areas identified in the DRECP as suitable for development. The DRECP also identified many of the lands in the proposed monument as being important to conserve for their biological values. Permanently protecting these lands will help to fulfill the DRECP’s goal of balanced development and conservation.

“Achieving California’s decarbonization goals by 2045 requires rapidly expanding the energy grid to connect solar, wind and other renewables. The Chuckwalla National Monument will protect environmental resources and tribal lands while creating an energy corridor for the electric power lines essential for the state’s clean energy future,” said Pedro J. Pizarro, President and CEO, Edison International.

The proposed national monument has garnered diverse local support, including from current and former local elected officials, the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Cahuilla Band of Indians, the cities of Banning, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, and Palm Springs, SoCal Edison, Imperial Irrigation District, the Metropolitan Water District, over 100 local businesses, Chambers of Commerce, and residents of the eastern Coachella Valley and neighboring areas.

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Jesus Reyes


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