Defending the Desert: Mojave

Joshua Tree | Death Valley | Mojave 


San Bernardino County has asserted claim to more than 2,300 miles of rights-of-way in the Mojave National Preserve using an antiquated 19th century mining law known as R.S. 2477. Many of these routes are located along wash bottoms, abandoned dirt roads, and cow paths. If the county were to secure these rights-of-way and maintain them as roads, it would degrade wildlife habitat, fragment the world's largest Joshua tree forest, cause further spreading of exotic species, and lead to increased resource damage. Furthermore, these claims are unnecessary since the Preserve already has more than 230 miles of paved roads and another 2,200 miles of unpaved roads open for public use.

If the county obtained right-of-way to these routes across the Mojave National Preserve, it would incur new maintenance, construction, and liability costs at a time when other county roads go wanting of repair. The prudent course would be for the county to abandon its right-of-way claims at Mojave and allow the National Park Service to take over maintenance responsibilities. The NPS could then access federal funds to maintain the legitimate roads and create new local jobs, while the county would be free of this unnecessary financial burden and could use its scarce road funds for projects elsewhere in the county that currently go wanting.

Clark County Airport

In 2000, The Ivanpah Valley Airport Public Lands Transfer Act provided Clark County, Nevada with the site for development of a new international airport, commercial facilities, and other infrastructure to serve the sprawling Las Vegas metropolis. This airport would be located near Jean, just 15 miles north of the Mojave National Preserve border. This airport and ensuing growth threaten to diminish two of Mojave's most treasured ambient values that nobody disputes-its piercing quiet and its dark nightsky. Even though this Act requires the development of an airspace management plan that avoids Mojave National Preserve, jumbo jets climbing towards and turning at the boundary of the Preserve will impact Mojave's natural soundscape. Additional growth that this airport will fuel in the Nevada border towns of Jean and Primm will impact Mojave's nightsky. Because of funding limitations, Mojave is unable to establish essential baseline data on ambient sound and night sky light levels necessary for assessing the extent of and mitigating impacts from airport operations.


There are substantial numbers of private property parcels located within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve as well as Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. For example, within Mojave alone there are over 1,100 privately-owned parcels. The California Desert Protection Act respects the property rights of those who own land within Mojave's boundary, but it also directs Congress to provide funding for purchasing land from willing sellers. Several members of Congress from California have worked to secure funding for this purpose through sources such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These efforts will be needed for the foreseeable future to purchase land from over 300 willing sellers and to match private dollars raised by the National Park Foundation for this purpose.


Mojave National Preserve operates with approximately half the funding needed to manage and protect its 1.6 million acres. Impacts of Mojave's funding shortfall include the following:

  • Mojave currently has a staff of four rangers to patrol 1.6 million acres, even though illegal activities such as dumping of hazardous materials, off-road vehicles trespass, illicit drug labs, and violent crimes regularly go unaddressed.
  • Mojave also needs more funds to address invasive species, including wild burros that degrade springs and impact wildlife habitat and annual grasses and mustard that displace native plants.
  • Mojave has no road-management plan and many roads are in poor shape with thousands of potholes, unraveled road edges, and unrepaired washouts.
  • Mojave lacks funding to provide adequate maintenance and interpretation at newly acquired ranching facilities that are rich in desert homesteading and ranching history. Additional staff is needed to ensure these resources are protected before they are irreparably damaged or destroyed.


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