THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
VICE PRESIDENT GORE ANNOUNCES NEW LAND PROTECTIONS IN CALIFORNIA DESERT
Calls on Congress to Pass Administration's Lands Legacy Initiative
Washington, DC -- Vice President Al Gore announced today that the Administration and a non-profit conservation organization have secured the money needed to complete a historic acquisition of pristine desert lands in Southern California. The Vice President also called on Congress to support the Administration's Lands Legacy initiative, which includes funding to protect nearby lands from future development.
Under the funding package announced today, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will acquire 180,605 acres within and adjacent to federally protected lands between Barstow and Needles. The land will be purchased from the Catellus Development Corporation with $5 million in federal funds secured by the Administration in the fiscal year 2000 budget and a $15 million donation from The Wildlands Conservancy.
"These stunning California Desert lands are being preserved for future generations through a true public-private team effort that could serve as a model in other areas," said Vice President Gore. "I commend the Wildlands Conservancy for its hard work and generosity. Protecting magnificent lands through this type of partnership is a central goal of our Lands Legacy initiative."
The purchase, to be completed within the next month, builds on the California Desert Protection Act signed by President Clinton in 1994. The Act, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, provided new or enhanced protection for 6.6 million acres, including the new Mojave National Preserve and 69 BLM wilderness areas.
Under an agreement in principle announced in December 1998, Catellus agreed to transfer to the federal government a total of 405,000 acres within and around the lands protected by the 1994 Act. Although the lands were valued at $61.6 million, Catellus agreed to a purchase price of $45 million. The first phase of the acquisition was completed earlier this year with $10 million in federal funds and $15 million from the Wildlands Conservancy. Today's announcement sets the stage for completing the second and final phase of the acquisition.
The areas to be protected include some of the most pristine and scenic desert lands in the world. Their features include cinder cones and lava flows, spectacular ranges of rock and flowing sand dunes, vast valleys, intriguing cactus gardens and important habitat for the endangered Desert Tortoise. Approximately 83,000 acres will be acquired by the Park Service within the Mojave National Preserve, and the Bureau of Land Management will acquire approximately 97,000 acres, including lands in six designated wilderness areas -- Clipper Mountains, Dead Mountains, Piute Mountains, Bristol Mountains, Old Woman Mountains and the Chemehuevi Mountains wilderness.
The Vice President commended Senator Feinstein for her leadership in securing the federal funds; The Wildlands Conservancy for its generous donation; and Catellus for selling the land at a substantially discounted price.
The Administration's proposed fiscal year 2001 budget included $15 million to complete the second phase of the acquisition. In light of The Wildlands Conservancy donation, the Administration yesterday proposed redirecting the proposed fiscal year 2001 funding to acquire other critical California desert lands on a willing-seller basis.
Unfortunately, Congress' budget failed to provide funding for the President's Lands Legacy Initiative. As a result, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday could only provide a small portion of needed land acquisition funding, with no funding to acquire critical desert lands.
"I am deeply disappointed that Congress is slashing funds that would allow us to forge other partnerships like this one to protect critical lands across America," the Vice President said. "I urge Congress to provide permanent and full funding for Lands Legacy so we can provide states and communities the resources they need to protect their precious green spaces."
Today's acquisition completes the largest purchase of private land in California's history and the largest purchase of land from one seller by the Bureau of Land Management in its 50-year history. Once acquired, the lands would be open to public access for outdoor recreation including hiking, hunting and other permitted uses.
Additional details are available on The Wildlands Conservancy website: www.wildlandsconservancy.org
# # #