“Latinos have such an important voice in the protection of our public lands, and a critical role to play in encouraging stewardship of our outdoor and cultural heritage,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). “These national monuments not only ensure continued public access to these places and enhance the local tourism and outdoor economies, but also strengthen the diverse social fabric of the region.”
The celebration event, held at the Whitewater Preserve near Palm Springs, drew a crowd eager to mark the historic occasion and thank President Obama, U.S. Interior Secretary Jewell, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Senator Feinstein for protecting California desert public lands. Participants also shared their interest in helping to steward the new national monuments in the months and years to come. Local desert organizations, business and community leaders, and residents plan to help ensure that the national monuments are well-managed and protected for future generations. Interest is already growing in helping with invasive species removal, hiking trail maintenance, and trash clean-up.
“I am thrilled that President Obama protected these lands and thankful to Secretary Jewell, Secretary Vilsack and Senator Feinstein for their leadership,” said Pastor Frank Ruiz with the Indio Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Coachella Valley and cofounder of Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance. “We now have a great opportunity to involve our region’s young people in helping to steward the monuments in the years to come. I’ve brought young people from my congregation and other faith based groups to visit and learn about the monuments and they are moved by these special places. I see it as our moral responsibility to help care for God’s creation.”
The effort to protect the California desert had strong local support from a diverse coalition of community leaders, organizations, and constituents. In the past two years, members of Por la Creación, which unites Latino faith leaders to develop stewards of God’s creation, led hikes, events and camping trips for Latino community leaders, youth and families at various California Desert locations to experience firsthand why protecting this region is so important.
“Protecting the California desert is crucial not only to the majority of local economies in the area, but also to the spiritual well-being of our community,” said Pastor Raul Velázquez of New Beginnings Christian Center in Victorville and a Por La Creación member. “The national monuments are what we have been working towards. Now it’s time for our community to stand up and take an active role in their stewardship so that future generations will enjoy these lands as we do today and our youth will have greater opportunities to connect with the outdoors.”
The Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments altogether include approximately 1.8 million acres of public lands, including 450,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress. The Mojave Trails National Monument encompasses more than 1.6 million acres, including 350,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress. The Sand to Snow National Monument spans 154,000 acres, including 100,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress. The Castle Mountains National Monument includes 20,920 acres of desert landscape.