Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, was joined by tribal and community leaders, elected officials, and local residents Monday to call on President Joe Biden to designate Chuckwalla National Monument and to protect lands adjacent to the Joshua Tree National Park.
The Chuckwalla National Monument Establishment and Joshua Tree National Expansion Act of 2023 would allow conservation of public lands known for their biodiversity, cultural significance and rich history, according to a statement from Protect Chuckwalla.
It would also ensure equitable access for communities in the eastern Coachella Valley, who cope with extreme heat, air and water pollution and limited access to nature.
“I appreciate the leadership and partnership of many organizations, tribes, and community leaders who have laid the groundwork for this historic legislation,” Ruiz said in a statement. “This legislation will protect our desert lands, improve air quality, expand access to recreational outdoor activities, and foster tourism and economic growth.”
The Chuckwalla National Monument, located south of Joshua Tree National Park and reaching from the western Coachella Valley region to the Colorado River, would become the largest protected area of the Colorado Desert bioregion at about 660,000 acres, officials said. Safeguarding the land and expanding the national park would aid California’s efforts to fight climate change and conserve biodiversity, according to backers of the effort.
It would also benefit some species such as the chuckwalla lizard and contribute to state and federal commitments to protect public lands and coastal waters by 2030.
“Our desert is incredibly rich in biodiversity, with each mountain range and valley home to unique plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth,” Colin Barrows, co-founder of the CactusToCloud Institute, said in a statement. “The proposed Chuckwalla National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park Expansion would protect and connect these ‘islands’ of diversity, creating vital climate refugia and building resilience in the face of warming temperatures, increased drought, and habitat loss.”
The legislation would also propose to protect about 17,000 acres of public lands in the Eagle Mountains near Joshua Tree National Park, officials said. The National Park Service studied the proposed expansion and indicated that the lands are critical for bighorn sheep migration and are a “key building block” for desert landscape conservation.
Leaders are calling on Biden to designate the national monument and to expand the national park it’s adjacent to by using the Antiquities Act.
“I look forward to working with so many great partners who care deeply, like me, about our environment and health,” Ruiz said.