LOS ANGELES — Federal offices were flooded with applications to place solar mirrors across the arid flatlands of southeastern California, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein was not going to let that stop her from protecting the heart of the Mojave Desert from development.
Some of those projects were headed toward fruition when Feinstein in 2009 announced plans to introduce bills to establish national monuments on roughly 1 million acres of public lands that are home to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, extinct volcanoes, sand dunes and ancient petroglyphs.
Her campaign to create the monuments amid the unfolding desert land rush turned out to be a lengthy one, held up for years by conflicts among environmentalists, off-roaders, hunters and renewable energy interests.
Ultimately, she prevailed. President Barack Obama in 2016 designated three new national monuments in the California desert, expanding protection to 1.8 million acres of Mojave Desert landscape.
“Sen. Feinstein had a passion for the Mojave Desert — and everything in it,” said David Myers, president of the Wildlands Conservancy and a longtime friend of Feinstein, who died on Friday. “It stirred her soul: the wildlife, the sand dunes, the wind, the people who worked the land — the old California romance with backcountry roads of adventure and enchantment.”
“I visited the Mojave several times with Sen. Feinstein and her husband,” he recalled. “She was comfortable there. Wore no makeup. Absorbed the wonders of it all.
“She was a defender of the California desert like no other.”
Obama’s designation of the monuments was requested by Feinstein, who for a decade had sought to protect land that wasn’t included in the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. That measure, which she authored, covered nearly 7.8 million acres, elevated Death Valley and Joshua Tree to national park status, and created Mojave National Preserve.
Feinstein had initially asked Obama in 2014 to use his authority to create the protected zones, without approval of Congress, to break a logjam of interests that had stalled her previous bills.
Her effort came on the heels of Obama’s designation earlier that year of much of Angeles National Forest as a national monument. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, had urged Obama to act after Congress appeared unwilling to approve her legislation to create a national recreation area to address problems in the San Gabriel Mountains.
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