Rep. Cook Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Enhance Conservation and Off-road Recreation in the California Desert
WASHINGTON- Earlier today, Rep. Paul Cook (R-Apple Valley) joined with Reps. Juan Vargas
(D-Imperial Valley) and Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) in introducing the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act. This bill is an updated version of Cook’s California Off-road Recreation and Conservation Act that passed the House in the last Congress, but ultimately never received a final vote in the Senate. The bill has widespread support from local governments, recreational groups, and conservation groups, as well as significant bipartisan support. California Senators Feinstein and Harris introduced an identical companion bill in the Senate.
This bill would designate or expand six Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Areas in the California desert. These are Johnson Valley, Spangler Hills, El Mirage, Rasor, Dumont Dunes, and Stoddard Valley. This bill creates additional protections for OHV users and ensures that these areas cannot be closed administratively. Creating the nation’s first system of Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation areas will ensure that OHV activity is conducted in appropriate locations, protecting other parts of the desert. The established or expanded OHV areas would total approximately 200,580 acres. Combined with the nearly 100,000 acres that make up the existing Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area, this bill will ensure that over 300,000 acres are permanently open for OHV use in the California Desert.
This legislation would also designate approximately 18,000 acres of existing federal land as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area. This would restrict large-scale projects such as renewable energy generation, while preserving all existing recreational and commercial uses of the Alabama Hills. Activities such as filming, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, and authorized motorized vehicle use would be unaffected.
It would also designate approximately 375,500 acres of wilderness in the California Desert, while releasing approximately 124,000 acres of existing wilderness study areas in the Cady Mountains and Soda Mountains. Additionally, it adds approximately 39,000 acres of land to the National Park System, including significant acreage at both Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park. For Joshua Tree, it would add approximately 4,500 acres of land on the northern border of Joshua Tree National Park to the park and would authorize the park to acquire the Joshua Tree Visitor Center near the main entrance.
It would establish the Vinagre Wash Special Management Area to protect 81,000 acres of public land in Imperial County, while preserving motorized recreation along designated routes. This bill would designate or expand approximately 77 miles of wild, scenic, and recreational rivers in the San Bernardino Mountains and near Death Valley. It prohibits the development of renewable energy generation facilities on approximately 28,000 acres of BLM land near “Juniper Flats” and conveys 934 acres of BLM land to the State of California to be included in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It also directs the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate with the California State Lands Commission on land swaps involving state school lands within the California Desert Conservation Area and establishes a Desert Tortoise Conservation Center along the California-Nevada border.
Rep. Cook said, “This bipartisan bill is one of the most significant pieces of conservation and recreation legislation in decades. It represents the work of years of outreach to local governments, tribes, off-highway vehicle users, conservation groups, Chambers of Commerce, miners, and other stakeholders. The bill protects critical OHV recreation areas, makes crucial expansions to our national park lands and wilderness areas, and represents a consensus on how to manage our public lands in the California desert. Given the overwhelming bipartisan support, I’m optimistic we’ll be able to pass this legislation this term.”
Rep. Aguilar said, “I’m proud to support this legislation, which will help Southern California families access and enjoy our state’s desert wilderness areas while also expanding environmental protections for public lands throughout the region. I’m grateful for the work of my friend Congressman Cook in leading this bipartisan effort, and look forward to advancing this legislation in the 116th Congress.”
Rep. Vargas said, “The Imperial Valley desert is home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem and vast terrains that are of great importance to the people of our region and the entire state of California. This bill would give residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy all the desert has to offer while ensuring that the invaluable natural resources of Imperial Valley are protected for future generations.”
Rep. Paul Cook served as an infantry officer and retired after 26 years as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.