California Public Lands Targeted for National Monument Designation

News for Immediate Release
Sept. 25, 2023
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262, [email protected]

Chuckwalla National Monument would span 660,000 acres of desert habitat with movement pathways for desert bighorn sheep, mule deer and other species

COACHELLA, Calif. – Vast, intact public land expanses of Southeast California revered both by hunters and the region’s Tribes could be permanently conserved if a national monument is established, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers stated today.

The proposed Chuckwalla National Monument would comprise approximately 660,000 acres of California desert home to desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, upland game and more that stretches west from the Coachella Valley region to the Colorado River in the east. The push to conserve this landscape has attracted a diverse slate of supporters, including from Tribes, area businesses and local residents, as well as hunters and anglers.

Representatives from these groups gathered today in Coachella, California, both to support the introduction of legislation led by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) that would permanently conserve the region and to urge President Biden to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to achieve this goal.

The Chuckwalla National Monument Establishment and Joshua Tree National Park Expansion Act, led by Rep. Ruiz, would establish the approximately 660,000-acre national monument. Lands within the proposed monument would remain under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, maintaining access for hunters. Meanwhile the state of California would retain wildlife management authority, including active management for water resources to sustain wildlife populations.

Included in the bill is language that would expand Joshua Tree National Park by transferring 17,000 acres from the Bureau of Land Management that had previously been part of Joshua Tree National Monument. BHA remains focused on the designation of the Chuckwalla National Monument and had previously suggested these 17,000 acres be included in the new monument under multiple-use management rather than overseen by the National Park Service in order to preserve existing hunting access. However, BHA recognizes the value of large-scale landscape conservation, similar to what was accomplished legislatively in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which in 2019 expanded the park and was lauded by hunters and anglers alike.

Beyond the iconic desert bighorn sheep, burro and mule deer populations that inhabit this stretch of desert, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is analyzing the feasibility of reestablishing a nonessential experimental population of Sonoran pronghorn within the proposed monument boundaries.

BHA’s California chapter underscored the importance of these southeastern California public lands and the need to ensure their long-term conservation.

“Our California desert landscape holds a wealth of habitat for wildlife, including movement pathways critical for desert bighorn sheep,” said Eric Hanson, co-chair of the California chapter. “We applaud Representative Ruiz for introducing legislation for the first time that would designate valuable public lands as the Chuckwalla National Monument, achieving their permanent conservation and recognizing their importance to wildlife, local residents and Tribes. At the same time, we ask President Biden to take action and designate this national monument through the Antiquities Act.”

The proposed monument boundary includes the homelands of the Iviatim, Nüwü, Pipa Aha Macav, Kwatsáan and Maara’yam peoples (Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Mojave, Quechan, and Serrano nations). It also includes areas that were used to train U.S. soldiers during World War II.

“BHA volunteers have been working to promote desert bighorn sheep populations in this region though hands-on habitat projects, and we have also been leading an effort to restore hunting access to Castle Mountains National Monument, which was inadvertently lost in 2016,” said California BHA Chapter Coordinator Devin O’Dea. “We are supportive of this monument request to conserve habitat and hunting access in the face of future energy and infrastructure development demands from Southern California’s cities.”

BHA has consistently advocated for America’s national monuments system and the judicious use of the Antiquities Act as a way to permanently conserve important large landscapes. Key to achieving this outcome is a process that is locally driven, transparent, incorporates the science-based management of habitat, and upholds existing hunting and fishing opportunities.

BHA and a consortium of groups and businesses recently released a report that outlines these principles and how national monuments can sustain important habitat and traditional hunting and fishing access. Read National Monuments: A Hunting and Fishing Perspective.

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