New protections for California desert

provided by Sierra Club

ice President Gore announced last month that the Clinton administration will use $5 million in Federal funds and $15 million in funds from the Wildlands Conservancy, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management to purchase 180,605 acres of former railroad lands in the California desert. The Vice President also announced that $15 million requested for the 2001 budget will be used for purchases from willing sellers of small inholdings in the desert's parks and wilderness areas.

"This is a giant step forward in protecting the California desert," said Elden Hughes, chair of the Sierra Club's California Desert Committee. "The checkerboard railroad lands have posed a constant threat of inappropriate development and these purchases will provide a proper balance between public access, wildlife protection and wilderness."

The former railroad lands stretch from Needles to Barstow in a 50-mile-wide swathe. The California Desert Protection Act of 1994 raised the protection levels on 9 million acres of the California Desert and directed the consolidation of the Parks and Wilderness Lands. These purchases are carrying out that mandate. Total inholdings purchased earlier this year, the current purchases and purchases to be funded for next year together total 532,000 acres.

"The Desert Tortoise is on the edge of extinction and this purchase will provide needed habitat," said Joan Taylor, Vice Chair of the Sierra Club's Desert Committee. "California desert lands also protect travel routes for bighorn sheep that are known to migrate more than 50 miles between mountain ranges."

"The Sierra Club applauds these actions which will protect a 400-mile-long wildlife corridor between Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park. A decades long dream is becoming a reality," added Hughes.