State mountains, desert latest national monument

The Associated Press
Wednesday October 25, 2000

A 440-square-mile sweep of jagged mountains and desert in Southern California became the country’s latest national monument under a law President Clinton signed Tuesday to protect the land from encroaching development. 

The Senate and House each passed the bill without opposition to create the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The area forms the postcard backdrop for Palm Springs, rising from the desert floor to the 10,804-foot peak of Mount San Jacinto. 

The primary advantage to monument status – one step shy of recognition as a national park – will be a higher priority for federal funding and a coordinated management plan among various federal agencies that own the land. 

“The better able we are to acquire lands, the better all the agencies working together will be able to manage the resources and ensure that they stay pristine,” said Bill Havert, executive director of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, which pushed for the legislation. 

The bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Mary Bono, whose 39th birthday coincidentally was Tuesday, said she was thrilled with added protection for the rugged mountains that are walking distance from her home. 

The mountains are home to endangered peninsular bighorn sheep and the threatened desert slender salamander. Because the mountain range features drastic changes in elevation, the proposed monument has five distinct climate zones, from desert to pine forest and arctic pine at the summit.  

Hiking and horseback trails cross the hills, offering spectacular views. 

“It’s important that those lands be recognized as special,” said Jay Watson, California director of the Wilderness Society. “The protection is as permanent as the Santa Rosa Mountains are themselves.” 

Bono negotiated for more than a year with a local officials, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to protect the land as a monument.  

The legislative, bipartisan compromise defused the hard feelings that monument designations provoked in recent years. 

Clinton has used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate 10 monuments spanning 3.7 million acres since he took office in 1993 – the most by any president except Jimmy Carter. Western Republicans often complain about the designations as federal “land grabs” that prevent access to public lands. 

Palm Springs developers had voiced concern about Bono’s proposal, fearing it would unfairly curb development.  

But she negotiated explicitly to prevent any impact to development outside the monument boundary and to allow planes approaching the Palm Springs airport to fly over the mountains. 

She said Clinton could ignore such rules if he declared the land a monument himself, a threat she said helped propel the bill to passage. 

Much of the Santa Rosa land already is protected by federal or state government, but declaring it a monument offers permanent protection rather than protection under current administrative management, which is subject to change. 

The monument includes the Santa Rosa Mountains National Scenic Area, part of the San Bernardino National Forest, the state’s San Jacinto Wilderness Area and part of the Indian reservation. 


For the first time, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, along with the tribe and a local advisory board, will create a joint management plan for the area. Advocates say the monument designation will make it easier to win federal funding for the plan, which is to be developed within three years. 

“It needs this approach with lots of grassroots involvement,” Bono said. 

Besides general protections for land and wildlife, the bill aims to preserve Indian ceremonial lands and archaeological sites. It would prohibit off-road vehicle use. Mining is banned, but grazing could continue under the bill. 

The bill is H.R. 3676. 


On the Net: 

The bill is at http://thomas.loc.gov. Rep. Bono’s site is at http://www.house.gov/bono