Congress’ Farsighted Action : Desert act is landmark law, but Mojave must be made a true park


Eight years after Sen. Alan Cranston first introduced the bill, it is gratifying to be able to report that the California Desert Protection Act is now at last almost law. The House of Representatives passed it Wednesday by a bipartisan 298-128 margin. And since the Senate passed a similar bill last April, all that remains is to resolve certain differences in conference and for President Clinton to sign it, as expected.

Credit for extending federal protection to nearly a third of the 25-million-acre Mojave Desert--which includes some of the nation’s most spectacular and fragile ecosystems--goes especially to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez). Feinstein had the political skill to find the compromises that revived what seemed like a moribund bill until her election in 1992.

She can rightly claim it as a major accomplishment. Miller shepherded the bill through the House, which finally broke a parliamentary guerrilla war waged by five Republicans who represent desert areas.


The House version extends the boundaries of the Joshua Tree and Death Valley national monuments and elevates them to full national park status. But as a sop to the National Rifle Assn., the House refused to turn the East Mojave National Scenic Area into a full park, designating it instead as a “preserve,” a device to permit hunting.

This will be the chief bone of contention between House and Senate conferees, because the Senate version makes it a national park. We worry that Feinstein, in a tough reelection battle against Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara), who, we regret to say, voted nay on the bill, may be too eager to have a bill signed before the November election and will compromise. She should be as tough as possible. Even if the conferees, cowed by the NRA, are unwilling to eliminate the noxious hunting provision, they could place such restrictions on hunting that it will not be a problem. It is incredible to think that Congress would subject hikers, campers and naturalists to the dangers of gunfire.

That flaw aside, we applaud Congress for this farsighted action. Generations of Westerners still unborn will benefit from this legislation to preserve the West’s fast-fading natural heritage.