The president’s action is precisely what diverse stakeholders from California’s desert communities have requested for years. Most recently, hundreds of the region’s residents demonstrated their support for these monuments at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s public meeting near Whitewater in October. At the meeting, 80 percent of those who attended expressed support for the monument designations.
Native American tribes, business leaders, veterans, local elected officials, scientists, youth, historians, teachers, faith groups, archaeologists, conservationists, and Latinos were present at the Whitewater meeting – and at many other events during the nearly decade-long effort to protect these desert public lands.
As a Latino, I am proud that many groups with Latino membership advocated for this outcome, including COFEM (Counsel of Mexican Federations) and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. With Latinos making up nearly 50 percent of the population in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, we have to be part of the conversation – and we are glad the Obama administration listened to us.
As a founding member of Por La Creacion: Faith Based Alliance, a group of faith leaders educating Latinos about our natural resources, I have seen members of my community transformed by their experiences in the desert. I’ve seen them learn about the value of Morongo Canyon as an oasis for migratory birds. I’ve seen students find the strength of their convictions while sharing them with their public officials. I’ve seen my colleagues make the case that God left us to care for his creation as stewards.
I also learned from scientists about the significance of the president’s designation of these monuments for helping the desert cope with climate change by conserving and connecting habitat needed by animals and plants to migrate and adapt.
It has been incredible to learn the many reasons we should treasure the California Desert. And we are very grateful to President Obama and Senator Feinstein, along with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, for their leadership in assuring that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the desert.
As Coachella Valley native Jessica Orosco, a student at College of the Desert and a member of the Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Indio said, “This place is more than just a desert; it’s my home. Last year I had the great opportunity to go to Joshua Tree and the Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow National Monuments, and it gave me a whole different perspective about what these monuments really mean. I realized that if we don’t save these monuments, we will be the last generation to fully enjoy these beautiful creations given to us by God.”
Jessica isn’t alone in her conviction. In November, 100 pastors from the Assemblies of God sent a joint letter to President Obama encouraging him to take action to protect the California desert under his authority of the Antiquities Act.
We are very happy that a place that means so much to so many will be protected for future generations. May we all be connected with and inspired by the cultural, historical, scientific, health, spiritual, economic, environmental benefits that we enjoy in the California Desert.
Pastor Frank Ruiz leads the Indio Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Coachella Valley and is a co-founder of Por La Creacion.