Mojave National Preserve


The area within today's national preserve was originally managed by the BLM. Driven by a growing concern that the California desert was being overrun by ORVs and was suffering from mining, overgrazing, and general neglect, Congress set up a 25-million-acre California Desert Conservation Area in 1976 and directed the BLM to come up with a cohesive management scheme to protect the resource values on the 12.1-million public acres under its jurisdiction in the region. One result of this effort was the designation of the BLM in 1985 of a 1.5-million-acre East Mojave National Scenic Area.

Despite the name change, conservationists still complained that the BLM was unable or unwilling to monitor and control damaging activities effectively. They argued that the desert's fragile tapestry was being unraveled piece by piece.

Pressure mounted to place the East Mojave National Scenic Area under Park Service management. When Senator Alan Cranston introduced the first version of the California Desert Protection Act in 1986, it included the proposed designation of a new national park in the East Mojave. After numerous revisions and amendments, the California Desert Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1994 and was signed into law by President Clinton. The Act, among other things, created the 1.4-million-acre Mojave National Preserve in the heart of the Mojave Desert, and transferred the lands known as the East Mojave National Scenic Area from the BLM to the National Park Service.

The name Mojave National Preserve may be confusing to some people. Why isn't it called Mojave National Park? Preserves are essentially the same as national parks. Both are managed by the National Park Service. The main difference is that sport hunting is permitted in preserves. The idea of preserves originated in Alaska in the 1970s during the debate over the creation of new national parks in that state. To pacify opposition from hunting organizations to the establishment of new park units, most of the better big-game hunting lands in the state were excluded from Alaska's newly established national parks. But rather than leave these lands open to industrial development, a new land management category was created—the preserve. Preserves do not permit habitat degradation, but they are open to legal hunting. Hence in Alaska you find park units with names like Denali National Park and Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and the Yukon-Charley Preserve.

All include lands open to sport hunting, but not resource extraction.

As originally written in the California desert legislation, the East Mojave area was going to be redesignated a national park. Opposition to park establishment from hunting organizations like the Safari Club and the National Rifle Association held up the desert bill in Congress. The opposition was based more on principle than genuine concern about the loss of hunting opportunities. Almost no one hunted in the proposed preserve anyway, and the number of game animals was limited to a few hundred deer and bighorn sheep. Rather than lose the entire bill over this one issue, environmentalists agreed to create a national preserve instead of a park so that the hunting argument could not be used to jeopardize protection of the area.

However, another last-minute compromise with significant ecological consequences centered on livestock grazing. Environmentalists wanted to phase out livestock grazing in the new preserve unit. They argued that no other human activity negatively affected more of the California desert than grazing. Given the meager productivity of the desert, any removal of vegetation by nonnative animals affects native species. One reason for the decline of desert tortoise, for instance, is the competition between this reptile and domestic cattle for forage. Trampling of fragile desert soil crusts, destruction of riparian areas and wetlands, the expropriation of water sources for livestock at the expense of wildlife (many wildlife species will not use water sources dominated by livestock), and removal of fine fuels (grasses) that once supported periodic wildfires are just a few of the negative ecological consequences of livestock grazing. But grazing interests strongly opposed any limitations to livestock use, and under the final legislation that created the Mojave National Preserve, grazing will continue indefinitely in the park.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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