PALM SPRINGS — As the plane climbed into the air from the Palm Springs airport toward Joshua Tree National Park, those inside could peer off in the distance at San Gorgonio Mountain, and the newly designated Sand to Snow Monument. The view looked over the open desert leading to Joshua Tree National Park.
This view and this flight was purposeful. The Mojave Desert Land Trust partnered with Ecoflight, a nonprofit touring group, to explain the environmental benefits of the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments and the recent Desert Conservation and Renewable Energy Plan that protects specific desert lands.
The aerial views demonstrated the valuable connections being made throughout the area for wildlife and natural forces.
“Most people know Joshua Tree National park. But we don’t want Joshua Tree and other areas to become islands in themselves, these areas (the new national monuments) are the connective tissues,” said Fraizer Haney of the Mojave Desert Land Trust.
Sand to Snow now becomes the corridor between Joshua Tree and the San Bernardino National Forest. It allows wildlife to migrate and move free of human intervention.
“Think of it like the connective tissue in a person’s brain,” Haney added. Connectivity allows cougars, bighorn sheep, lizards, plants and even sand to move between areas as the population, food supply and environments naturally change.
“Sand dunes are dynamic they're always in motion,” Haney said. “The Coachella Valley was getting so highly developed that they would have prevented new sand blowing in.”
He also explained dunes have several species, like the Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard and Borrego Milkvetch, which are adapted to and depend on sand dunes.
“That's a landscape level protection. You cannot protect just a few miles, you have to protect an entire valley, the entire geographic feature.”
The creation of the national monuments, and the protection the DCREP offers, were critical to protecting these areas, Haney said.
“Sand to Snow crosses Highway 62 in two places. That's where development is most likely to occur, that’s where wildlife is most going to struggle to cross,” Haney said. “Wildlife is not going to move through existing communities but they will move through the little pockets of undeveloped areas between the communities.”
Wildlife protection is not the only advantage of the newly protected areas. Public use of these areas still holds the key to the success of the monuments, Haney said.
“My number one goal is the communities around these national monuments will embrace them. It becomes part of the identity of the communities.” Haney said.
He pointed to the eco-tourism embraced by the communities surrounding Joshua Tree National Park, in hopes these monuments will develop economic growth based on protected lands.