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California Desert Conservation Area


ProtectionAfton Canyon

Q. How is BLM protecting established wilderness areas?

A. These areas are managed under the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, the 1964 Wilderness Act and BLM's national wilderness management policy, which mandate a high degree of protection and highly restrict access and use.

Q. What exactly is wilderness?

A. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as federal lands officially designated by Congress and the President as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas are (in part):

  • Lands that appear to be natural or undisturbed, and where human-caused changes are essentially unnoticeable.
  • Lands that offer outstanding opportunities for solitude and provide primitive and unconfined forms of recreation.
  • Lands that may contain ecological, geological or other features of scientific, scenic, or historical value.
  • Lands large enough to preserve and use as wilderness, generally at least 5,000 acres.

Wilderness designations are intended to help maintain biodiversity, conserve natural areas, provide habitat for wildlife, and promote opportunities for scientific and historic research.

Q. How are the remaining Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) managed?

A. WSAs were identified in the CDCA Plan for those public lands that contained the wilderness characteristics as described. Congress stated that existing and even new uses could be allowed in WSAs as long as the wilderness values were not "impaired." This means that permitted activities must not cause any permanent impact and must be substantially unnoticeable.

Q. Can BLM control illegal, unauthorized uses in wilderness areas and WSAs?

A. Yes. The California Desert Protection Act did not preclude the use of motorized vehicles and aircraft for law enforcement and border operations by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. In addition, BLM has committed a large portion of its limited staffing to monitoring these millions of acres to ensure their wilderness values are protected. If violations occur from unauthorized use, the BLM requires reclamation work to repair the damage and implements management actions to prevent reoccurrence.

Q. Is wilderness preservation the only protective measure in the CDCA?

A. No. Another major plan element is designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern or ACECs. There are approximately 80 ACECs in the desert, covering about 750,000 acres. These areas contain special cultural or natural resources, such as historical and Native American artifacts, endangered plant or animal species, and unique or unusual geology. An individual management plan is developed for each ACEC to ensure maintenance and long-term protection of its special values.

Q. What about endangered species? Does the plan really protect them?

A. Yes. The plan gives preservation of endangered species the highest priority. BLM has set up a number of special habitat ACECs for wildlife. The 13,000-acre Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Preserve near Palm Springs and the 15,000-acre Desert Tortoise Natural Area near California City ensure a special place for these threatened and endangered species to survive.

In addition, the BLM is currently involved in several major ecosystem planning efforts which will satisfy the requirements and objectives of the federal Endangered Species Act, the California Endangered Species Act, and the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan. These large-scale plans will serve as coordinated management plans and amendments to the CDCA plan for the conservation of biological resources.

Q. What do you mean by protection of cultural resources?

A. The term cultural resources is used to describe archaeological and historical remains left by earlier residents of the desert. These include artifacts left by early Native Americans and historic remains of early miners and settlers. These cultural resources are protected by law. The CDCA Plan identifies known resources and sets up ways to protect them. Many of the ACECs established contain such resources.

Q. What about enforcement of the plan?

A. BLM's 45 Rangers in the desert provide a high level of protection and law enforcement capability aided by other BLM field employees. But the public's cooperation and assistance is also critical.

Q. How can the public help?

A. Desert users should take a personal responsibility for caring for the resources. For some, that means becoming aware of the rules and following them. Many other users volunteer their time to help clean up heavily used areas, construct visitor trails, and perform other needed work. All these activities help ensure that the desert is wisely managed for use and enjoyment by all.

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