SACRAMENTO—Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Tuesday to create the California Desert Conservation Program at the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) to acquire, preserve, restore and enhance desert conservation habitat within the state’s desert region. The measure, AB 1183, was introduced by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland).
“This bill would aid a neglected but important state program and aid in addressing climate change, restoring desert habitat and ancestral lands and aiding public access and recreational amenities.” Ramos said. He added that the desert region is defined in AB 1183 as portions of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in the Counties of Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego that fall within the California Desert Conservation Area as delineated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The area falls across 26 million acres in southeastern California.
AB 1183 would authorize the WCB to:
- Administer the California Desert Conservation Program through acquisition of interests and rights in property and waters to restore desert lands, water and wildlife;
- Include preservation of cultural resources, public access, and environmental protection in purposes of this desert conservation program;
- Establish the California Desert Conservation Program Fund Account, to be administered by the WCB, and allows funds from private, federal and other sources to be deposited into the account,
- Fund projects that address the impacts of climate change, protect and restore desert habitat and sacred ancestral lands of indigenous people and reduce the threats of wildfire, drought, flood and other catastrophic events.
Ramos said the California Desert Conservation Area was designated by Congress in 1976 as part of the Federal Land Policy Management Act and is of importance in several policy concerns. It is populated by 19 million residents and includes military installations and agriculture, mining and tourism business interests. It is also the site of solar, wind and geothermal resources and numerous national parks, national monuments, wilderness areas and state parks.
Geary Hund, Executive Director, Mojave Desert Land Trust said, “Establishment of the California Desert Conservation Program will provide direct, well-deserved investment to protect and restore important natural lands and to help preserve our invaluable cultural resources. This is a great day for the desert and its diverse array of plants and animals, dark night skies, spectacular open spaces, and desert lovers in California and worldwide. We are grateful to Assembly Member James C. Ramos and his staff for their leadership in championing this significant desert conservation legislation and we wish to thank Governor Newsom for signing this bill into statute.”
Ramos added, “Our desert region is a precious but fragile asset and is home to the largest still-intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states. These lands perform critical environmental roles, including capturing and storing carbon to help us fight the climate change crisis. For me, California’s desert lands are also treasured because they are home to numerous tribal communities and dotted with sacred lands and plants important to California Native Americans.”
AB 1183 is sponsored by the Defenders of Wildlife, Hispanic Access Foundation, Mojave Desert Land Trust and Vet Voice Foundation. It is also supported by the Armargosa Conservancy, Audubon California, California Coastal Protection Network, California Council of Land Trusts, California Invasive Plant Council, California Native Plant Society, California State Parks Foundation, California Waterfowl, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of The Inyo, National Parks Conservation Association, Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, Resources Legacy Fund, Sierra Club California, Trust for Public Land, Wilderness Society and Wildlands Conservancy.
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature.