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Obama sets aside 1.8M California desert acres as monument

Obama sets aside 1.8M California desert acres as monument
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President Obama will roll out new protections for 1.8 million acres of land in southern California’s desert, designating it as a trio of national monuments.

The new monuments will almost double the amount of land Obama has set aside for conservation.

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It brings the total land and water Obama has unilaterally protected under the Antiquities Act to about 265 million acres, far more than any previous president.

The three new monuments, dubbed Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument, will connect three existing protected areas and 15 designated wilderness areas, creating the world’s second largest preserve.

The White House said the action will indefinitely protect unique landscapes, natural resources, wildlife habitat, historic and cultural assets like the largest undeveloped stretch of historic Route 66, and provide recreational opportunities for a fast-growing area.

The White House said it shows “the administration’s strong commitment to aggressive action to protect the environment for future generations.”

Mojave Trails National Monument, at 1.6 million acres, is Obama’s biggest designation yet.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate panel punts Mueller protection bill to next week Steyer endorses de León in bid to unseat Feinstein Amid struggle for votes, GOP plows ahead with Cabinet picks MORE (D-Calif.) had been a leading voice in support of the monument designations.

Obama plans to travel to the edge of the desert in Palm Springs, Calif., for the announcement Friday as part of a multiday trip that included various Los Angeles-area destinations Thursday.

Obama has used his national monument powers frequently in areas for which he and local leaders agree on the need for land protections, but Congress has not taken action on its own.

The designations frequently anger congressional Republicans, who say he is abusing his power and should not be allowed to act without the approval of Congress and state legislatures.

Conservation groups applauded the new California monuments.

“These national monuments will play a vital role in the long-term sustainability and health of the region, and the protection of our beautiful, diverse deserts,” Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.

“President Obama’s plan to designate the most expansive national monuments of his administration is a momentous action with positive implications for local economies, threatened historic and cultural areas, and migrating wildlife,” said Mike Matz, director of the United States public land program at Pew Charitable Trusts.

All of the areas getting new protections are already owned by the federal government. They will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Forest Service.