The Los Angeles Times reports today that an upcoming Congressional bill might leave out a huge swath of land from the Mexico border up through the Mojave from federal protection. The land is currently protected under an executive order, says the Times, which could be rescinded by the White House without Congressional support…. other lands protected under an executive order are moving into formal protection with this bill.
Taking protection away from the Mojave could open up some of the land to mining interests, developers, off-roaders, says the Times:
“Utility companies have proposed hundreds of miles of electrical transmission corridors through California’s deserts, and off-road vehicle enthusiasts oppose further regulation of the area.”
I do identify with some of the off-road enthusiasts concerns: it is nice to have land with less regulation where you can camp and wander around without being told where to sleep and having to pay for it all.
Of course, we all know the downsides to a lack of regulation: scattered beer bottles and broken glass, abandoned cars, wild fires… the list goes on and on.
The picture at the top of this entry is of Surprise Canyon, a ghost town at the end of a 3,500 feet walk-climb through a verdant desert stream bed. It is the best example in the Mojave of what happens when the desire to regulate butts up against people wanting access rights. Basically, what used to be a road up to ghost town, was washed away by the current stream bed, making it drivable only by extremely souped-up jeeps.
Nevertheless, off-roaders want back in. A group I spent some time with at a nearby Panamint mountain spot insisted on referring to the same steep stream bed I climbed up for hours, beating vegetation away with both hands, as a “road.”
Seems like dropping protection for the area, would be opening up even more desert areas to even more intense fights over access and land use.
Will it happen? Maybe, maybe not, but according to the L.A. Times the bill has received support from a “broad coalition of more than 70 outdoor sports, environmental, historical preservation and religious groups.” Getting that kind of coalition together is a pretty big effort…. and since the bill expands protections in many other parts of the country, getting national environmental groups to turn on it may be asking too much.
On the other hand, even with an executive order, the land would still be protected until the president decided it wasn’t worth it. And considering it survived through the environmentally-unfriendly Bush administration, it might well be safe for a long time.