People have long recognized the California Desert for its spiritual value, precious waters, unique wildlife, dark night skies and incredible vistas. Efforts to protect the California Desert were strengthened on September 28, 2021, when AB 1183, authored by Assemblymember James C. Ramos, was signed into law by Governor Newsom. Assemblymember Ramos joins a long line of desert champions whose legacy will be marked by protection of the most intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states and support of its vibrant communities.
Thus began the written agenda of the California Desert Conservation Program Celebration event hosted by Assemblymember James Ramos and the Wildlands Conservancy, which I was honored to attend at the Whitewater Preserve in Riverside County. The establishment of the Desert Conservation Program under the California Wildlife Conservation Board was a direct result of Defenders' priority 2021 state legislation, Assembly Bill 1183, and is now ready to accept dedicated funding for conservation and restoration projects in California's desert region.
The goals of the California Desert Conservation Program aim to:
- Protect, preserve and restore the region’s natural, cultural and physical resources through the acquisition, restoration and management of lands.
- Promote the protection and restoration of the biological diversity of the region, including the recovery of threatened and endangered species.
- Provide for resilience within the region to climate change, including but not limited to reducing the risk of natural disasters such as wildfires, controlling invasive species, protecting and improving habitat connectivity, and protecting soil carbon stores by limiting ground disturbance.
- Protect and improve air quality and water resources within the region.
- Undertake efforts to enhance public use and enjoyment of lands owned by the public, with an emphasis on expanding opportunities for education and access to public lands for communities that currently lack access.
Event guests heard from a slate of speakers, from Michael Madrigal, president of the Native American Land Conservancy, to the California Wildlife Conservation Board’s executive director, John Donnelly, and many more. Assemblymember Ramos was presented with a special certificate from Senator Dianne Feinstein highlighting his dedication to the desert region, followed by an impassioned speech and two traditional songs honoring bighorn sheep sung by the Assemblymember himself, California's first Native American state legislator. The ceremony concluded with several songs and dances by the Pai nik tem Bird Singers and Dancers of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
After the formal celebration finished, Ramos held a special listening session with Wildlife Conservation Board leadership to hear from a variety of stakeholders to discuss priority ideas, projects and program areas in the desert region in need of funding. Notably, Governor Newsom's proposed budget "May Revise" includes funding dedicated to the Desert Conservation Program, so there’s no time to waste in setting priorities as new dedicated dollars could start flowing to the desert region very soon.
Defenders of Wildlife was a proud co-sponsor of AB 1183, along with the Mojave Desert Land Trust, Hispanic Access Foundation and Vet Voice. We are so grateful to Assemblymember Ramos for carrying the bill and being a staunch desert champion. Onward to greater California desert conservation!