No Immediate Changes, but Mojave Monuments Remain Under Threat

A leaked copy of the Department of Interior's recommendations to the President regarding changes to several national monuments,  including Gold Butte in Nevada and Cascade-Siskiyou straddling  the California and Oregon border, reveals an unprecedented effort to undermine protections for some of our most treasured public lands.  The lack of immediate changes to national monuments neighboring the Mojave Nationals Preserve,  including Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains, is no cause for relief.  

According to a leaked memo, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke recommended shrinking Gold Butte National Monument in southern Nevada, among an array of changes proposed for several monuments.

According to a leaked memo, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke recommended shrinking Gold Butte National Monument in southern Nevada, among an array of changes proposed for several monuments.

If the President acts upon the recommendations and alters the boundaries of any national monument, or changes the original proclamations that guide how each monument should be managed, he will set a precedent that makes all monuments vulnerable.  Unless the courts overturn such changes, we would have to expect that this President and future presidents will again alter our national monuments to cater to extractive industries,  such as mining and energy companies. Previously, legal scholars have interpreted the laws governing the establishment and alteration of monuments to limit the President to creating new monuments, and reserving to Congress the right to reduce or eliminate monuments.

Cadiz Dunes in Mojave Trails National Monument.  This monument remains in the crosshairs even though it may not have been mentioned in Interior's recommendations to the President.

Cadiz Dunes in Mojave Trails National Monument.  This monument remains in the crosshairs even though it may not have been mentioned in Interior's recommendations to the President.

 Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains remain under particular threat.  Although the leaked Interior memo does not recommend immediate changes to these monuments, Congressman Paul Cook has asked the Trump administration to reduce both monuments to make way for expanded mineral and water mining.  If this happens, Mojave Trails could be cut by nearly a half million acres and Castle Mountains would be reduced to make room for a Canadian company's gold mine. Water pumping would imperil natural springs that wildlife depend upon, and habitat would be destroyed. 

Many of the Mojave Nationals Preserve Conservancy's supporters submitted comments urging Interior not to recommend any changes to national monuments.  It is a shame that Interior ignored the overwhelming majority of public comments that urged continued protections for our national monuments.  We urge the President not to take any action on these misguided recommendations. 

Policy Moves Threaten the Preserve

Policy Moves Threaten the Preserve

The administration in April took two major steps that threaten the Preserve and surrounding desert habitat. Washington is considering removing protections from some national monuments and other public lands, including lands neighboring the Preserve, and has also made it easier for a private company to deplete groundwater in the Mojave that many wildlife depend upon.

Life Flourishes at Kelso Dunes

The Kelso Dunes are a central feature of the Mojave National Preserve, visible for miles around to visitors in the western portion of the park.  The graceful peaks and valleys of this large dune field are even more gorgeous at sunset and sunrise.  The dunes show off their texture as every little ripple and wave in the sand forms its own shadow.  The sand that forms these dunes is transported by the wind from miles away.  The mountains around the dune field interrupt the wind, releasing each fine grain of sand from the sky and forming dunes over time. 

Kelso Dunes at sunrise. 

Dune evening primrose

This happenstance of geography, geology and weather creates a home for many specialized desert species. Grasses and shrubs take root throughout parts of the dune field.  There are insects found only in these dunes, such as the Kelso Dunes Jerusalem Cricket and the Kelso Dunes Shieldback Katydid.  The Mojave fringe-toed lizard enjoys the sandy soils and is known to bury itself just beneath the surface to hide from predators and the blazing midday sun.  The dune evening primrose blooms here when the desert receives sufficient rain.  

Like the rest of the desert, many animal species are nocturnal and you can find evidence of their nighttime wanderings in the form of various tracks across the sand.  Like the distinctive hop pattern of the kangaroo rat, the imprints of the sidewinder rattlesnake, and paw prints of a kit fox.

Lizard tracks at Kelso Dunes

Visiting the Dunes:

  • The dunes trailhead is easily accessible along a maintained dirt road off of Kelbaker Road. 
  • As with all travel in the Preserve, go slow and keep an eye out for wildlife in the road.  I have encountered a desert tortoise on the dirt road leading to the trailhead. Also remember to check under your parked vehicle before driving away - tortoises sometimes take shelter in the shade of a parked car.
  • Bring water.  The dunes don't look far, but walking in the sand makes it much more difficult and there is no shade from the sun.  It's better to get this hike in during cooler hours of the day and don't underestimate how quickly you can become dehydrated.
  • When hiking out to the dunes, keep to already disturbed paths.  You'll see a lot of plant life in the sand that can easily be harmed by humans treading across it, and will not quickly grow back.
  • Stay tuned to all of the animal tracks.  You may not be lucky enough to spot the many wildlife species that call the dunes home, but you can count on seeing their tracks!
  • There is a treat in store for those that make it to the top of the dunes.  As your steps along the crest of the dune cause the sand to fall, it creates a booming sound.  This "singing dune" phenomenon is rare among dunefields.