California’s rural economies depend on very small businesses – 95 percent of companies in these areas have fewer than five employees. Many of them depend upon our state's unique and spectacular natural resources for their success. The California Desert region is no exception.
That’s why we’re making the business case that President Obama heed Sen. Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) request that he designate three new national monuments in this region - Castle Mountains, Mojave Trails, and Sand to Snow - and protect one of the richest landscapes in North America.
Many businesses in this region depend on tourists, outdoor adventure seekers, and travelers for their livelihood. One such place is the Ludlow Café, a funky diner on Route 66 known for their fluffy, homemade biscuits. Drawing new attention to the desert supports and strengthens businesses like the Ludlow Café and helps bolster a strong and diversified infrastructure of small, locally owned businesses that are major job creators for rural areas.
While ‘nearby’ cities – as in 80-plus miles from Ludlow – have a couple dozen large employers or lots of bright lights, the towns throughout the California desert are small and unlikely to lure big business. Plus large businesses aren’t in business to create jobs, but rather to maximize profits for shareholders. If we look to the federal, state and local governments to provide jobs, we’ll just find dramatic cuts in public sector employment.
So who creates the jobs? The DIYers who are starting their own small businesses. National monument designations will attract new attention and enhance tourism and recreation in the region, thus increasing the dependability of customer flow, a must-have ingredient for these businesses. With customers come other economic benefits, like jobs and community investment.
Preserving the California desert will also preserve the painted mountains, archaeological treasures, renowned wildflower displays, diverse recreational opportunities, and western history that includes Native Americans, General Patton’s World War II training sites, and Route 66. Each of the three proposed monuments has their own special features.
Castle Mountain is home to Joshua tree, pinon pine, and juniper forests, rich Native American archaeological sites, several unique wildlife habitats, and the historic gold mining ghost town of Hart.
In Mojave Trails – which links the Mojave National Preserve to Joshua Tree National Park – one finds sensitive wildlife, unspoiled desert vistas, sacred Native American trails, and hundreds of miles of alluring backroads, along with lava flows, trilobite fossil beds and the longest undeveloped stretch of Route 66.
Sand to Snow is one of the most important wildlife corridors in Southern California, one of the most botanically diverse mountain areas in the contiguous U.S., and includes highly accessible recreational assets such as 25 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Its Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa are home to stunning cultural sites and rare plant species.
Visitors come to this area because of these natural resources and recreational possibilities. Already, visitors to the region’s three national parks-Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and the Mojave National Preserve attract over 3.2 million visitors who spent $194 million and supported over 2,700 jobs in 2014. Add to this the nearly 4.2 million visitors who visited California desert lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in 2013.
Protecting additional recreational opportunities for local and area residents as well as visitors from around the world helps sustain and grow local communities. America’s public lands attract baby-boomers and entrepreneurial types, who value quality of life factors and outdoor recreation.
For example, more than 500,000 seniors relocated to Western states in search of protected public lands between 2000 and 2010, creating nearly 300,000 jobs, and seniors-focused micro-businesses are capitalizing off the wave of baby-boomer retirement. Even my hairdresser intends on retiring to the Mojave Desert to open a café and curio shop. Research shows that from 1970 to 2010, western non-metro counties with more than 30 percent of their land base in federal protected status increased jobs four times more than Western non-metro counties with no protected federal land.
We have the opportunity to protect some of the most spectacular and diverse stretches of intact desert while helping to sustain and grow the local economy. Senator Feinstein has repeatedly introduced legislation to protect these areas dating back six years but the prospect for its passage continues to be bleak. It is time for this region to gain the protection it deserves and secure its economic future. I join Senator Feinstein in urging President Obama to designate Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, and Castle Mountains as national monuments.
Viek is CEO of CAMEO (California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity), a non-profit with the mission of creating economic opportunity for all California entrepreneurs to build wealth and strong communities.