The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

California Desert's Six Million Acre Question Mark

Bill Establishing Landscape Conservation System Fudges on CDCA Inclusion


Legislation slated as the first order of business for the incoming
111th Session of Congress to codify the National Landscape Conservation
System inexplicably excludes most of what some call its crown jewel,
the California Desert Conservation Area. The real reasons behind this
exclusion are a mix of politics and plans for large-scale industrial
development of the California desert, according to documents released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

At issue is the level of protection accorded to more than six
millions acres - an area bigger than New Jersey - of the California
Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) which includes sections of three major
American deserts: the Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin. Congress is
considering giving a statutory charter to the National Landscape
Conservation System (NLCS), a network of national monuments, historic
trails and conservation areas within the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) created by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt late in the
Clinton administration.

CDCA was created by Congress before the advent of the NLCS and has
always been considered part of that system. In fact, BLM official maps
and fact sheets show CDCA as included within NLCS.

Overruling its California staff, BLM Headquarters quietly decided
that CDCA would not be included in the pending codification legislation
but has offered no public explanation. Documents obtained by PEER under
the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) contain this conclusion:

"No, CDCA would not be included in the NLCS under the
current pending legislation. BLM has reviewed the legislative
history...and found it inconclusive in regard to this question. Our
intent is to use this information only upon request."

PEER has asked for the underlying legal opinions leading to this
conclusion but the agency has not responded, and today PEER filed a
federal lawsuit to obtain the withheld documents. In the materials
released to PEER is this exchange between a BLM official and the head
of a multiple use group:

"You told me why the Cal. Desert was excluded from
the NLCS legislation...Part of the answer was the huge amount of solar
energy installations already in place and the potential for more.

"Stunning and ecologically important places such as Big Morongo
Preserve and Afton Canyon will be left open to development if the
California Desert Conservation Area remains on the legislative cutting
room floor," stated California PEER Coordinator Karen Schambach. "The
unspoken plan is for corporate conversion of large parts of the CDCA
into giant energy farms and transmission corridor superhighways."

The local congressional representative, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA),
reportedly wants to keep most of the CDCA out of the NLCS, while the
state's senior senator, Diane Feinstein, has pledged to have the entire
CDCA included. To paper over the difference, the bill managers for the
153-bill omnibus measure containing the NLCS authorization will add a
floor amendment stating that "public land within the CDCA is
administered by the BLM for conservation purposes" but that language
will leave to BLM discretion which lands will actually be included in
the NLCS.

"Why does the National Landscape Conservation System need to be
dismembered in order to become permanent?" asked PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Interior Inspector General is
currently investigating alleged collusion between BLM officials and
organizations sponsoring the NLCS bill. "The omission of the California
desert is no glitch; this is a hidden development agenda cloaked in
happy talk about conservation."


Read BLM conclusion that CDCA is outside the NLCS

Look at e-mail exchange citing massive solar installations as a reason

View the BLM official map showing CDCA as part of NLCS

Examine the BLM fact sheet including CDCA acreage within NLCS

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.