Conservation Groups Celebrate New Program to Fund Desert Restoration

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
The Amboy Crater, outside Twentynine Palms, is part of the desert habitat that conservation groups hope to protect with funds from a new Desert Conservation Program. Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. — Projects to protect the Mojave and Colorado Deserts stand to get a lot more funding, as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill creating the California Desert Conservation Program.

The program is not yet funded, but the money should come with the 2022 budget cycle.

Cody Hanford, deputy executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said he would like the state to purchase parcels of private land that connect large tracts of public land.

“The top priority would be acquisitions of private land inside habitat linkages,” Hanford explained. “By preserving these linkages, that enables the desert to remain intact and species to flow as needed. ”

The Southern California desert is a big hit with tourists, attracting $7.6 billion in spending in 2018, which supports 78,000 jobs. The program would funnel money to tribes, nonprofits and local government agencies to restore desert habitat, fight climate change and improve recreational access.

Brenda Gallegos, conservation program associate for the Hispanic Access Foundation, said the projects will make access to nature more equitable.

“One third of every community of color is nature-deprived,” Gallegos pointed out. “This will actually increase that access to nature for all of our communities of color in the area.”

Janessa Goldbeck, California director of the VetVoice Foundation, said her group was an original co-sponsor of the bill.

“We believe strongly that protecting our public lands is a patriotic duty,” Goldbeck contended. “Veterans and military families use public lands to reconnect after they are deployed.”

The program also will fund efforts to remove nonnative plant species such as cheatgrass, because they create fuel for wildfires.

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