The largest land conservation bill passed by Congress in 10 years, which includes vast areas of California’s desert, is now sitting on President Trump’s desk for expected approval.
The new protections in the bill prohibit mining, roads and off-highway vehicles, and it will also enlarge two national parks, Death Valley and Joshua Tree. Included is the bill is designation of the Alabama Hills as a new National Scenic Area, the lowest national land designation that provides protections to federal lands. It comes 12 years after the first meeting was called in Lone Pine by the Bureau of Land Management to ascertain local interests in a plan to find ways to promote and protect the unique geologic area located just outside the town.
Passing both the House and Senate with large bipartisan support, the bill designates 1.3 million acres of federal land as wilderness, which is the highest level of protection. It also establishes four new national monuments and sets aside more than 600 miles of rivers from dams and other development.
Local supporters, such as Kathy Bancroft, the president of the Alabama Hills Stewardship group, along with Chris Langley and Kevin Mazzu, say they are “cautiously optimistic.” President Trump has until March 16 to either sign or veto the bill.
The local Alabama Hills Stewardship group and representatives of the BLM met with several dozen stakeholders on Tuesday evening, March 5, to map out potential ways to assist the BLM to put together a 3-year stewardship plan that will be required if the bill is signed into law.
The AHS group, which has been working on the National Scenic Area designation for the past 8 years with the BLM, has closely monitored the Alabama Hills and wants to make sure that the local Lone Pine community has a say in the future management of the area, and that all the groups that have been using the area for recreation and hobbies do not lose access or have their activities banned or restricted.
Dave Kirk, BLMs Alabama Hills Steward, who regularly patrols the area and offers interpretive tours, gave a presentation on how the Hills are currently being used, by whom, and in what numbers.
Several tables were then set out, each with a BLM representative and an AHS member to cover and offer ideas in several areas such as: Day Use, Overnight Use, Special Permits, Social Media, and developing a vision of the area’s future. More meetings are planned for the future.
The bill, when signed, creates an 18,610-acre Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in the Alabama Hills of Inyo County, where over the last century, hundreds of Western TV shows and movies have been shot. It also will add 28 miles of the Amargosa River and the Whitewater River and Surprise Canyon areas of the Mojave Desert to protections under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which blocks dams and development.
It offers a compromise with off-road vehicle groups by guaranteeing permanent access to 200,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in the desert where off-road vehicles are now driving.
That there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill (98-2 in the Senate) is not surprising as it will also give wilderness protections in Utah, New Mexico and Oregon. There was also something in the bill for every senator in every state. There are also new protections for hunters on federal land, and a provision to allow Native Alaskans who served in the Vietnam War to homestead up to 160 acres each in rural Alaska on BLM lands.
The bill covered a lot of ground by creating new national monuments to honor the Civil War, at Mill Springs Battlefield in Nancy, Kentucky; civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers in Jackson, Mississippi; the victims of the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster in Los Angeles County near Santa Clarita; and Jurassic National Monument, 850 acres of BLM land in Southern Utah famous for discoveries of dinosaur bones. A little something for everyone.