Desert Conservation Groups Cheer Signing of CA Assembly Bill 1183

Groups thank Governor Newsom for signing this important desert conservation investment bill

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom has signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1183, bringing California’s desert region essential funding for conservation, recreation, and environmental education projects. Assembly Member James C. Ramos authored AB 1183, which will establish the Desert Conservation Program under the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board. The program will provide new grant funding to local governments, tribes, non-profit organizations and other entities for biodiversity conservation, cultural and historical preservation, recreation projects, restoration of damaged lands, and climate resiliency projects in the California desert.

“We commend Assembly Member Ramos for his leadership on this important legislation that will bring much-needed conservation investments to California’s iconic desert region, which is home to the largest still-intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states,” said Pamela Flick, California Program Director with Defenders of Wildlife.

California’s deserts face many threats. Climate change effects are resulting in increased fire risk due to higher average annual temperatures and longer droughts. Infestations of invasive, non-native plants make deserts more flammable, crowding out native wildflowers and reducing forage for wildlife. Increased development is reducing and fragmenting habitat. Illegal marijuana cultivation is also on the rise. These threats present a critical need for conservation funding.

While the California desert region makes up 28% of the state, it has largely been left behind where conservation funding is concerned. Existing conservancies and conservancy programs elsewhere in the state have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, illustrating the benefit of the proposed program. “Having the Desert Conservation Program will increase access to nature for communities of color and ensure equity in how funds are spent on protection, to assure all communities have safe, accessible public spaces and nature where they can recreate and restore,” said Brenda Gallegos, Conservation Program Associate of Hispanic Access Foundation.

“California deserts are a national treasure for their vast and dramatic landscapes, spectacular geology, dark night skies, and diverse array of plants and animals. They are places of wonder and discovery where one can find respite from the frenetic pace of modern life,” said Geary Hund, Executive Director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust. “But this same region is severely lacking in direct investment to protect and restore our invaluable natural and cultural resources. The enactment of this legislation will give a significant part of our state’s natural and cultural heritage the much-deserved support it needs.”

Approximately half of the State’s population lives in or within an hour’s drive of the Desert Region. These vast open space areas are the ancestral territory of several Indigenous peoples and serve many disadvantaged communities who are increasingly utilizing these areas for recreation. One measure of the soaring popularity of the desert is an increase in visitation at Joshua Tree National Park from approximately 1.5 million visitors per year in 2013 to more than three million in 2020. Despite the proximity and popularity of the Desert Region, grant funding from the State is largely not available to achieve conservation needs due to the large geographic size.

"Veterans share a strong connection with the outdoors and believe that protecting our public lands is a patriotic duty,” said Janessa Goldbeck, California Director for VetVoice Foundation. “More than 220,000 veterans and military families live in and around the California desert. This unique landscape not only provides a place for veterans to recreate, but also to heal from the mental, physical, and moral wounds of war. AB 1183 helps ensure that such an important resource will be protected for generations to come."

The bill co-sponsors – Mojave Desert Land Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, Hispanic Access Foundation, and VetVoice Foundation – thank Governor Newsom for signing this important bill into law, which will go into effect as of January 1, 2022.