California Desert Miracle: The Fight for Desert Parks and Wilderness (Sunbelt Natural History Guides)

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9780932653277: California Desert Miracle: The Fight for Desert Parks and Wilderness (Sunbelt Natural History Guides)
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California Desert Miracle is a story of how unpaid and under-funded volunteers fought for the last large area of wildland left in California. Their efforts, lasting over 20 years, culminated in the enactment of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. The story describes how masterful leadership helped work the Act through Congress despite filibusters, "holds", and other legislative mechanisms of delay and destruction arrayed against it. This story will engage and enlighten all who care deeply about the environment.

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From the Publisher:

From San Diego Union Tribune, Sunday, December 27, 1998] Big wasteland, not the fight to save California's deserts was epic-and it's not over First, there was the story of Moses and his followers, who wandered through a desert wilderness for 40 years. Now comes the saga of Russ penny, Bill Holden, Judy Anderson and others, wanderers too for more than 20 years in the political wastelands of Sacramento and Washington, D.C., true believers bent on saving a desert wilderness.

This is their story, the epic history of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, whose creation took far more than seven days (9,855 would be more accurate) and involved a fervent, decidedly persistent cast of hundreds.

Desert lovers, of course, should know the tale by heart, if only because it is so remarkable and the results so ... well, so big.

In 1967, Penny, the new California director of the federal Bureau of Land Management, was astounded by photographs of hundreds of motorcycles racing across the desert in a new off-road race from Barstow to Las Vegas. He wondered how such activity affected the desert habitat, and persuaded his Washington bosses to spend $25,000 for a study of desert resources and how they might be protected. The findings, naturally, were not good. The desert, writes Wheat, one of the activists who would later shepherd the CDPA to success, is "extremely fragile, easily scarred and slowly healed."

Penny declared that the California desert was "on the brink of environmental disaster." But the warning fell upon deaf ears in Washington and in the political power circles of Sacramento, where the powers-that were generally viewed the desert as empty barrens, or had other plans for it.

Thus began a long, hard-fought battle between environmentalists and like-minded politicians with the conservative political establishment. In rigorous detail, occasionally leavened by stories of desert adventures and the personalities of people involved, Wheat describes each chronological step of the battle to set aside a huge chunk of the state's desert real estate, to preserve and protect it from the dangers of motorcycle races, mining, development and the like.

It is, remarkably, a lively tale, spiced with drama and a white-knuckle climax in which desert supporters, after fending off assorted filibusters and back-room political maneuverings, watched triumphantly as the U.S. Senate passed the act the day after Congress was scheduled to adjourn.

The act established the 1.5 million-acre Mojave National Preserve, the 3.3 million-acre Death Valley National Park, and the 795,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park, plus 69 other wilderness areas in the desert encompassing 3.5 million acres.

But the fight, Wheat observes repeatedly, is not over. The act now must itself be protected from those who would subvert it. More important, Wheat says, millions of acres of high-quality desert habitat elsewhere in the American West deserve equal protection.

With this book, Wheat provides a real-life narrative of how to fight the good fight-and win. It is an environmental how-to bible.

-Scott LaFee

Science writer for the Union-Tribune

Sunday, December 27, 1998

From the Back Cover:

"The California desert, is...extremely fragile, easily scarred and slowly healed...". Thus spoke Congress in 1976 in the Federal Land Policy Management Act. Yet the desert, with its magnificent scenic, scientific, environmental, and recreational value, remained under attack year after year. This is the story of how "underpaid and under-funded volunteers fought for the last large area of wildland left in California."

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