Protecting California's desert wildlands amid solar energy development

Joshua Tree National Park. 

Photo: The City Project, flickr

The 19th anniversary of a bill safeguarding Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park and other wilderness reminds us of the need to develop solar energy carefully in the California desert.

Nineteen years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act, doubling the amount of designated wilderness in California and creating Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. Today, millions of people visit the California desert’s national parks and wildlands every year, enjoying outdoor recreation like spring wildflower shows in Death Valley, rock climbing in Joshua Tree or hiking in the Mojave Preserve.

As more tourists visit the California desert, more money goes to communities that abut protected parks and public lands. But other changes have come, too. For example, once-modest communities like Victorville and Coachella Valley are mushrooming, and solar energy developments, once a curiosity in the desert, are becoming more common.

Demand for homegrown renewable energy in the region is high. California is leading our nation in developing that energy, and some of it will undoubtedly come from the sunny desert, which is well-suited to produce it. However, it is imperative that we site this development carefully, away from our most special public lands.

Can you imagine if Congress had not set aside places like Death Valley or the Mojave Preserve as wilderness?  Would Death Valley’s Darin Plateau be cluttered with development?  Would the world’s largest Joshua Tree forest, at Cima Dome in the Mojave Preserve, still be standing?  Thank goodness that Congress, led by the bill’s author, Senator Dianne Feinstein, had the foresight to protect these and other places in the California desert back in 1994. 

California’s Desert Treasures

Step off the beaten path and you’ll quickly find lesser-known California desert gems full of rich scenery, wildlife, culture and history. These unique places may not have been included in the original California Desert Protection Act, but they are just as deserving of protection.

Explore the California Desert: 11 desert treasures you'll want to see -- and preserve!

For now, you can visit these places while sitting in front of your computer, but consider taking a special road trip this winter or spring to experience the beauty of the California desert.