(lands in red and purple are the Wildlands Conservancy donation parcels. Click on map to enlarge)
Washington, DC Mar. 18, 2009 - U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, today announced her intention to introduce new legislation to establish a national monument to preserve hundreds of thousands of acres in the Mojave Desert. The former Catellus lands were previously donated to or by purchased by the Department of the Interior for conservation.
"The former Catellus lands between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park were purchased by or donated to the federal government so they would be protected forever. I feel very strongly that the federal government must honor that commitment," Senator Feinstein said.
"That's why I am very concerned about wind and solar development proposals intended for these lands. I'm a strong supporter of renewable energy and clean technology -- but it is critical that these projects are built on suitable lands. The former Catellus lands shouldn't be eligible for development.
So, I intend to introduce new legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of these former railroad lands through a national monument designation. This would provide lasting protection for these lands and prevent development, while allowing existing uses to continue. I also intend to work with local stakeholders to determine whether other local desert lands may be suitable for federal protection at this time.
These former Catellus land acquisitions were financed by $40 million in private donations from The Wildlands Conservancy, $18 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations and approximately $5 million in a price reduction from Catellus, a real estate subsidiary of the former Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroad. The private parties contributed this large sum of money in the belief that this land will be protected and conserved. Building huge solar facilities on these lands is untenable and unacceptable. Bottom line: the former Catellus lands must be protected from development."
Senator Feinstein recently expressed her concerns about development proposals intended for the former Catellus lands in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which is available below.
Protecting the Former Catellus Lands
The national monument designation would ensure that hundreds of thousands of acres between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve are protected in perpetuity. Large-scale development would be prohibited within the monument in order to protect the biological and aesthetic integrity of the region and guarantee public access for hunting, hiking, camping and exploring scenic back roads.
The 600,000 acre Catellus agreement was one the largest nonprofit land acquisition donations to the United States in history. Most of the Catellus lands were acquired and donated to the federal government between 1999 and 2004. It included nearly 100,000 acres of land to the National Park Service, over 210,000 acres in 20 wilderness areas to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and hundreds of thousands of acres of important habitat for threatened and endangered species.
The BLM is currently reviewing 130 applications for solar and wind energy development in the California desert, covering more than 1 million acres of public land. Several of these applications are located in the eastern Mojave Desert on or near property previously owned by Catellus. The California Energy Commission has estimated that approximately 100,000 to 160,000 acres of desert lands would be needed for the state to meet its 33 percent renewable energy goal by 2020.
Senator Feinstein was the lead sponsor of the 1994 Desert Protection Act, which provided lasting federal protection for nearly 9 million acres of pristine desert land in Southern California. It established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. It remains the largest parks and wilderness bill to impact the lower 48 states.