A proposal to create a 134,000-acre "Sand to Snow National Monument" on public lands in and near the San Gorgonio Pass received backing Thursday from the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management.
Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recommended Thursday that Congress approve monument protection for the area, which includes Whitewater Canyon and Southern California's highest point, San Gorgonio Mountain.
The lands also include the entire San Gorgonio Wilderness, Sonoran desert, and Big Morongo Canyon. They border three Wildlands Conservancy preserves, the Morongo Valley community, and the west end of Joshua Tree National Park.
A pdf map of the area is attached to this report.
Including lands already designated as wilderness in a national monument benefits neighboring lands and communities, said David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy in Oak Glen.
"When you elevate a wilderness area to national monument status it gains more national stature and helps promote tourism," Myers said in a phone interview Friday. "This proposal also affords higher levels protection for other BLM and Forest Service lands outside the wilderness area.
"It's important to note it does not impact any private lands," Myers said.
The Sand to Snow National Monument will likely be the most diverse national monument in the lower 48 states, Myers said.
"Where else do you have a desert river, desert forest with pinyon pine, juniper, joshua trees, transitional black oak and canyon oak forests, oak woodlands, chaparral, and conifer forests with incense cedar, white fir, ponderosa pine, and alpine terrain?" Myers said. "There would be nearly 10,000 feet elevation change in this one national monument."
The proposed Sand to Snow monument is one of three BLM areas in Southern California referred to Congress by Salazar, an appointee of President Barack Obama.
The other areas are the proposed Beauty Mountain area, which bridges Riverside and San Diego counties east of Temecula, and the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, north of Twentynine Palms in northeast San Bernardino County.
Salazar's recommendation to Congress on Thursday includes areas in eight other states.
"Basically, the Obama administration is stating it will support a public lands bill that combines proposals and legislation for all these areas," Myers said.
In letters dated Nov. 10, 2011, Salazar urged leaders of the House and Senate to consider "significant local support" for the Sand to Snow National Monument and other proposed protection areas, and to "take action on the proposals."
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill to create the the Sand to Snow National Monument and Mojave Trails National Monument is known as the California Desert Protection Act of 2011.