By definition, a national monument preserves the unique natural, historic or cultural heritage of public lands. National monuments are created by Congressional legislative action or by Presidential Proclamation using the Antiquities Act of 1906.
The Mojave Trails National Monument was created by Presidential Proclamation, joining a list of 15 other monuments in the state of California. Spanning 1.6 million acres, more than 350,000 acres of previously congressionally designated Wilderness, the Mojave Trails National Monument is under the administrative oversight of the Bureau of Land Management. They are required to develop a management plan for the monument.
The Proclamation defines the permitted activities that can happen within the monument. In general, the proclamation provides for existing uses and activities and does not limit or prohibit rock hunting. Rock hounders are welcome to continue collecting limited amounts of rocks, minerals, and gemstones in the Monument in accordance with the Bureau of Land Management's rock collecting guidelines.
The current system of designate routes of travel are scheduled to remain open. However, during the planning effort, issues could be addressed that will lead to the closure of some routes to preserve the unique natural, historic or cultural heritage of public lands.
Over the coming months, the Bureau of Land Management will be developing a management plan to help guide the uses and activities that occur in the Monument. Public “Envisioning Sessions” were scheduled for August 30, 31, and September 1.
For their first public outreach, I would grade them a B.
Keep in mind, the BLM is rolling this planning effort out under their new planning rule (dubbed Planning 2.0). I have reservations as to their ability to keep up the pace of public involvement due to potential budget and personnel issues.
They did have employees on hand; however, the employees seemed to wander around the room rather than man a specific station to address questions.
The public outreach efforts are expensive and a big demand on employee time. Can they maintain the level of activity?
For display of information and outline of the steps involved, I would grade them a B.
They did have good concise write-ups about some of the pending issues. However, they did not have an introductory session to provide an initial overview of goals and expectations of the overall planning effort or the expected outcome of the “envisioning session”.
I have known Mike Ahrens, the BLM project manager, for a long time and trust what he says. He is trying to follow the steps as required by law. He is under pressure to complete the project in a timely fashion. No, I don’t know what is “timely” vs what is appropriate time to accomplish the necessary analysis.
The current round of envisioning sessions are preliminary “scoping” sessions to establish a base for BLM to move forward with the planning effort. They are pushing to have comments provided on the spot. But, they are willing to accept mailed comments over the next few weeks.
Moving forward, the proclamation is going to be an important reference point. That will spell out allowed activities. The challenge will be to provide interpretations that enhance recreation and avoid interpretations that hamper recreation. The new Planning 2.0 will create some conflicts as it does differ from previous planning rules.
At the end, there will be an “Objection Period” prior to the final signature on the Record of Decision. Based on a recent 9th Circuit Court ruling, as long as BLM conducted their analysis under the steps defined by National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, and Administrative Procedure Act, the BLM will have adhered to their legal requirement. The 9th Circuit also affirmed that provided BLM’s analysis complies with all applicable laws, the difference of opinion over the methodology is insufficient to defeat an agency’s analysis.