A bill intended to expand land and protections across 716,000 acres of California desert, including additions to Joshua Tree National Park and the San Gorgonio Wilderness area of the San Bernardino National Forest, was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act seeks to expand Joshua Tree by 4,518 acres; the San Gorgonio Wilderness within the San Bernardino National Forest by more than 7,000 acres; and Death Valley National Park by 35,292 acres.

The bill also would create eight new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas, totaling 280,360 acres; permanently designate six off-road recreation areas; provide protections for recreation and conservation in Imperial and Inyo counties; and designate 77 miles of California waterways as “Wild and Scenic Rivers,” including portions of the Whitewater River.

“The beauty of California’s desert is unmatched, and we have a responsibility to keep it pristine for future generations,” Feinstein said. “Unlike many deserts, ours is full of life — from desert tortoises to bighorn sheep, breathtaking wildflower blooms to Joshua trees — that define its unique beauty. The California desert deserves protection.”

The legislation aims at building upon the California Desert Protection Act — introduced by Feinstein in 1994 — which established Joshua Tree National Park, as well as Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve.

“I promised off-roaders and environmental groups that we’d complete the effort to better manage the desert we started almost 25 years ago, and that’s exactly what this legislation would do,” Feinstein said. “Last Congress, this bill passed out of committee and was included in a broader public lands package. However, despite bipartisan support, that bill never received a vote. We plan to build on last year’s momentum and pass this legislation as quickly as possible this year.”

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