Groups Make Economic Case for Protecting CA National Monuments

Mojave Trails National Monument, which connects Joshua Tree to Death Valley, could be downsized under a review by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Photo Credit: Bryn Jones

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. – The National Park system in California each year draws 42 million visitors who spend more than $2 billion and support almost 30,000 jobs.

Public lands advocates hope these figures – just released by Democratic Party members of the Joint Economic Committee in Congress – will convince the U.S. interior secretary to leave the state’s national monuments intact.

The agency is reviewing 27 national monuments, including six in California with an eye to protecting the smallest, key areas, which could open up the rest to development.

Paul Smith, co-owner of the 29 Palms Inn, near Mojave Trails National Monument, supports the monuments.

“What people value in the deserts out here are, number one: scenic vistas uninterrupted by manmade objects,” he states. “And without this status, this land is very subjected to windmills, solar fields and the mining industry.”

In a recent letter to the Interior Secretary, a dozen Western Republican members of Congress complained that the various monuments hurt ranching, timber, energy, and ATV and mining interests.

They recommended completely withdrawing monument designations for the Berryessa Snow Mountain and Cascade-Siskiyou national monuments, as well as shrinking boundaries at Giant Sequoia, San Gabriel Mountains, Mojave Trails and Carrizo Plain national monuments.

Pete Spurr with Joshua Tree Realty, also near Mojave Trails, says he’s disappointed that his congressman, Paul Cook, signed the letter.

“Open space and quality public lands are beneficial to families, visitors and businesses alike,” Spurr stresses. “I think it brings economic windfall to an area to be adjacent to any of these protected lands. The visitor economy is so much more robust than the mining industry.”

Millions of people submitted public comments about the monuments, and the comment period ended on Monday. The vast majority supports keeping the monuments intact.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s final report is due on Aug. 24. Conservation groups have already vowed to sue if the administration tries to rescind any monument designations.

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