Leaders applaud protecting outdoor heritage for future generations
WASHINGTON, DC – Members and supporters of Por la Creación: Faith Based Alliance (PLC), which unites Latino faith leaders to develop stewards of God’s creation, are applauding the news that President Obama is designating three new national monuments in the California desert today: Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains.
However, the group also expressed dismay over criticisms from Rep. Paul Cook regarding the President’s action. While we appreciate Rep. Cook’s commitment to preserving public lands, he raises several objections that warrant a thoughtful response.
Rep. Cook claims that the new national monuments lack broad public support. In fact, the breadth and depth of public support for the President to designate the new California desert national monuments demonstrates overwhelmingly that Rep. Cook is incorrect. Calls for President Obama to act came from chambers of commerce, over 200 desert business operators, local elected officials, veterans, Native Americans, Latino organizations, historians, artists, archaeologists, sportsmen, biologists, and community members. In addition, a recent poll from Vet Voice Foundation showed that 75 percent of California voters support the President designating three National Monuments in the California desert, with comparable levels of support—70 percent—among residents in the desert region. Rep. Cook himself built a huge amount of public support for permanent protection of most of the public lands in the new national monuments.
But Rep. Cook is opposed to Presidents creating any national monuments through the Antiquities Act. This is befuddling since Joshua Tree National Park – an economic engine that supports over 1,000 private sector jobs through $74 million in visitor spending (based on 2014 data) in surrounding communities, including Rep. Cook’s hometown of Yucca Valley – was originally protected through the Antiquities Act in 1936. Other American icons protected through the Antiquities Act include the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Mount Lassen. Furthermore, a poll released by Colorado College in January showed that 80 percent of Westerners favor Presidents continuing to protect public lands as national monuments.
“We have a moral responsibility to future generations to protect God’s creation — preserving the mountains, rivers, deserts and other breathtaking landscapes of our nation,” said Pastor Jesse Villarreal of Templo La Hermosa in Coachella and member of Por La Creación. “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.”
Rep. Cook claims that the President should give the legislative process a chance to work. While legislative protection is desirable, many desert residents and organizations have expressed great concern with Rep. Cook’s California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act (CMORCA). PLC leaders met with Paul Cook’s office to share community concerns about CMORCA, including its provision to designate Mojave Trails as a “Special Management Area,” which would allow up to 150 square miles (96,500 acres) of the area to be mined, an expansion of nine times over current levels. The reality is that passage of California desert public lands legislation through the 114th Congress is slim at best, mainly because the objectionable provisions in CMORCA are incompatible with Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act (CDCRA). As a result, President Obama heeded the call from Senator Feinstein and business and community leaders to use the Antiquities Act.
“We feel that Senator Feinstein’s request to have President Obama designate Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and the Castle Mountains as national monuments is a more balanced approach. It safeguards the region’s natural and cultural treasures and will help expand the region’s tourism economy without impeding existing mining claims or operations,” said Pastor Frank Ruiz of the Indio Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Coachella Valley and co-founder of PLC, in response to Rep. Cook’s criticisms. "For these and many other reasons — from opportunities to hike, watch wildlife, and learn about historical sites, to the protection of groundwater aquifers and clean air — I have joined over 100 faith leaders from PLC and the Assemblies of God Southern Pacific District in signing letters in support of the monuments.”
Rep, Cook also inaccurately criticizes the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, established in 2014, saying that the area has experienced increased strain and the US Forest has been unable to provide additional resources. The truth is that designating San Gabriel Mountains National Monument has resulted in a $3 million increase in federal funds for the area as well as $4 million in donations of private funding for the National Monument and areas connected to it. Since the monument’s designation, the USFS has improved recreation sites and natural resource conditions, hired additional staff, and funded youth work crews.