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Poll: Majority of Californians Support Desert Monuments

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A view across the proposed Castle Mountains National Monument | Photo: Chris Clarke

A strong majority of Californians want more lands permanently protected in the California Desert, and that support crosses party lines. That's according to the results of a new survey conducted in early November by the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, which shows widespread public enthusiasm for protecting the proposed Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, and Castle Mountains National Monuments.

According to the telephone poll, which was commissioned by the Vet Voice Foundation, Californians both statewide and living in the desert areas surrounding three proposed National Monuments strongly support protection of those areas by Presidential Executive Order. That's despite allegations by Congressional Republicans that such a declaration would constitute a federal "land grab." And a majority of Californians across the political spectrum say they want the desert lands at issue protected from mining.

That's bad news for U.S. Representative Paul Cook, whose recently introduced California Desert Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act would allow mining on 100,000 acres of the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. Asked their opinion on his proposal, 66 percent of Californians -- and 65 percent of desert residents -- said they opposed it.

A campaign is underway urging President Barack Obama to designate the three National Monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906. That campaign comes after several years of stalemate in Congress that's blocked progress on a series of bills by Senator Dianne Feinstein to protect the lands in question.

Republicans have criticized Presidential designation of National Monuments under the Antiquities Act as "land grabs," but Californians aren't buying that, even if they live in more traditionally conservative desert areas. According to the poll, just 17 percent of Californians agreed with a statement that designation of the three National Monuments would be an unwarranted Federal intrusion into local affairs, with that sentiment only raising to 18 percent among desert residents in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Inyo counties.

Statewide, 75 percent of Californians polled say they support Monument designation, with 45 percent characterizing their support as "strong." Among desert residents those numbers were lower, but only slightly, at 70 percent in support and 43 percent in strong support. Just 16 percent of Californians, and 21 percent of desert residents, sid they opposed designation.

Perhaps most surprisingly given opposition to designations by Republican leaders, 62 percent of Republican voters surveyed supported the designation. Support among Democrats ran at 85 percent.

Nearly three-quarters, or 73 percent, of households that include veterans or active-duty servicepeople supported the monuments, and the same percentage of all respondents said they felt protecting the California desert was crucial to give a place for veterans to heal from their wartime ordeals.

The pollsters quoted one Republican respondent, a Latina woman in Riverside County, as to the reasons for her support of the monuments:

"I used to go hiking in the mountain desert area. Being out in the desert sounds like a desolate place where it's hot and dry, but there are things out there, like they say, an oasis. There are turtles, roadrunners, coyotes, and tarantulas, a lot of things out there; Birds that live in the Yucca Trees. I know a lot of people who hike up these trails and post themselves hiking in the desert every day to me and it's awesome. Yes, I would highly support it for them."

The poll was conducted by phone, with 600 Californians contacted statewide, and 300 within the desert counties. Margin of error for statewide responses is ±4 percent, and ±5.7 among desert residents.

As envisioned in Senator Feinstein's most recent version of her bill, the the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument would include about 135,000 acres of land linking the San Gorgonio Wilderness, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, and Joshua Tree National Park. The Mojave Trails National Monument would cover 965,000 acres between Joshua Tree NP and the Mojave National Preserve along the Route 66 corridor, The Castle Mountains National Monument isn't mentioned by that name in Feinstein's bill, which would have simply added the 12,000 acres to the Mojave National Preserve. The Antiquities Act doesn't enable the President to add land to National Parks or Preserves, so designating a Monument to be administered by the Preserve is a workaround. The land was originally excluded from the preserve in the 1994 California Desert Protection Act due to an active gold mine in the area.

"Veterans want to see these desert lands permanently protected as national monuments," said Steve Dunwoody, of the Vet Voice Foundation. "With this poll, we see that an overwhelming majority of Californians join us in that sentiment. We encourage President Obama to listen to this support and designate the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments."

For the record: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Vet Voice Foundation.

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