The California Desert Protection & Recreation Act is a Model for Smart Environmental Legislation

The tragic human and environmental toll of the recent fires in California have brought the importance of smart conservation practices into focus. In order to address key environmental issues ranging from wildfires to biodiversity, lawmakers need to work creatively with a wide range of stakeholders to craft smart policies. In California, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Representative Paul Cook are doing just that.


Last year, Representative Cook introduced H.R. 857, The California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act. The bill, which passed the House in June, allocates hundreds of thousands of acres of land in southern California for recreation, research, and conservation. The Senate version of the bill, S.B. 32 The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act, was introduced by Senator Feinstein and has been approved in committee.

This effort began in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which designated seven million acres in the Mojave Desert as wilderness. After years of research and extensive consultation with local groups, the new legislation will designate portions of the land to five new wilderness areas, several permanent Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreational areas, new scenic areas, and additions to Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. This tailored approach is a smart step forward and will maximize conservation as well as opportunities for visitors and residents to enjoy the area.

On the passage of the House version, Representative Cook stated, “The bill protects recreational and OHV areas, makes crucial expansions to our national park lands, and represents a consensus on how to manage our public lands in the California desert.”

Indeed, the legislation stands out because it is supported by a diverse set of groups. According to Representative Cook’s press release, supporters include San Bernardino and Inyo counties, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, local cities, local chambers of commerce, almost all major off-road vehicle groups, as well as environmental groups such as the California Wilderness Coalition and tribal entities such as the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation.

The American Conservation Coalition (ACC) applauds Representative Cook’s and Senator Feinstein’s leadership on this important issue. The locally-focused, consensus-based approach of the California Desert Protection Act should serve as a model for future conservation legislation. ACC encourages legislators on both sides of the aisle to prioritize the passage of this bill in order to protect an important part of our country’s natural beauty.

Quill RobinsonComment