A bold new vision to create a sprawling national monument adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park became a formal proposal this week.
Proponents hope the new monument will provide much-needed recreation opportunities for residents of the eastern Coachella Valley while also helping preservation efforts for endangered species habitats and important tribal cultural sites.
The proposed Chuckwalla National Monument would nearly double the amount of federally protected desert landscape in the area north and east of the Coachella Valley. At a massive 660,000 acres, this new monument would rival the roughly 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park in size.
The idea for the Chuckwalla National Monument was first floated last year by a coalition of environmental groups. As proposed, it would hug the southern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park, stretching all the way along Interstate 10 from the edge of the eastern Coachella Valley to the Colorado River. The proposed monument spans nearly 700,000 acres across both Riverside and Imperial Counties.
Within the new monument’s boundaries lie several popular recreation spots, including the scenic Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Trail. This area allows hikers to view colorful giant rock formations and climb ladders through a narrow slot canyon. The nearby Orocopia Mountains and Box Canyon Road are also beloved local destinations for hiking and camping.
There are two potential paths forward to establish the new monument: an act of Congress or a presidential designation under the Antiquities Act. Earlier this month, U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz initiated the legislative process by introducing the Chuckwalla National Monument Establishment and Joshua Tree National Park Expansion Act of 2023. Ruiz and members of the California legislature also plan to send a letter to the Biden administration soon, calling for the president to use his executive powers to designate the monument.
On Monday, a broad coalition of local groups, elected officials, tribes, and state and local leaders gathered to launch the “Protect Chuckwalla National Monument” campaign in support of the proposal. Under the plans, the monument would be co-managed between federal agencies and local tribes, similar to several newer monuments such as the Grand Canyon’s Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni and Bears Ears in Utah.
The campaign also complements emerging 30×30 conservation goals at both the state and federal level. These initiatives aim to conserve 30% of lands and coastal waters by 2030. California’s Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot called the Chuckwalla proposal “the largest and one of the most significant” opportunities currently on the table to work toward the state’s 30×30 target.
Importantly, the proposed boundaries for the Chuckwalla National Monument were carefully drawn to avoid areas slated for solar energy development under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. This should allow the monument to complement, rather than conflict with, future renewable projects in the region. The land within the proposed monument is currently under Bureau of Land Management control.
If ultimately approved, the Chuckwalla National Monument would become the third national monument in the Coachella Valley, joining the existing Sand to Snow and Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains monuments. It would also be the first monument specifically protecting the beautiful yet fragile landscapes of the eastern Coachella Valley. As one local official noted, this would make the Coachella Valley the only place in the country nearly encircled by federally protected conservation lands.
Cover photo courtesy of: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management