After Celebrating Biden’s Protection of Molok Luyuk, What’s Next for Conservation at CNPS?

Munz’s cholla (Cylindropuntia munzii); Image: Bob Wick

By Isobel Nairn

After decades of hard work, this month’s exciting national monument expansions are a cause for celebration. But this momentous occasion isn’t just an opportunity to look back with pride and gratitude at everything it took to get here. It’s also a critical point for keeping the momentum going strong in protecting other special places in California through National Monument status. With ongoing efforts to designate three more California monuments this year–Chuckwalla, Kw’tsán, and Sáttítla Medicine Lake Highlands–the success of the Molok Luyuk and San Gabriel Mountains expansion campaigns has only added to our resolve.

Take Action

Join us in supporting the permanent protection of Chuckwalla.

Sign the Petition

This year has already been momentous for California monuments. However, California’s goal to conserve at least 30% of its lands and coastal waters by 2030 (30×30) demands further action. The California Natural Resources Agency estimates that California must conserve an average of 750,000 acres a year by 2030 to reach its 30×30 goal–a target that scientists across the globe say is necessary to protect life as we know it. Three additional, ecologically-rich California landscapes with deep significance to Indigenous tribes currently await national monument designation, leading us to call for three more in 2024. Together, their protection and the recent expansions would create more than 1 million newly conserved acres in California, leapfrogging the state towards its 30×30 goal and giving hundreds of imperiled species a fighting chance at survival. 

An LA Times editorial published just after the expansion of BSM and SGM National Monuments urged President Biden to designate the three new monuments, noting that “it’s in humanity’s self-interest to set aside wild open spaces that provide an outlet for public recreation, help keep the air and water clean, preserve rare species and provide a protective buffer as we experience the worsening effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.” 

These specific national monument designations represent a powerful way we can save what matters most at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s why CNPS will be focusing its Conservation Program and Public Affairs resources on these campaigns in months ahead. In this series, we look back at what it took to get the Molok Luyuk and San Gabriels expansions over the finish line, and take a deep dive into each of the three potential California monuments, beginning with the unique desert landscape of the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument.

Left & Top Right: Desert ironwood (Olneya tesota); Bottom right: Blooming Chuparosa (Justicia californica) and Ironwood Trees (Olneya tesota); Images: Bob Wick

Making a monument in the California desert

The proposed Chuckwalla National Monument is situated in the heart of the Colorado Desert, a hot, low-lying portion of the Sonoran Desert. Home to both ecological extremes and places of refuge from harsh desert conditions, Chuckwalla is the missing link that connects six wilderness areas, Joshua Tree National Park, the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range, and the Salton Sea. Situated on the ancestral homelands of the Iviatim, Nüwü, Pipa Aha Macav, Kwatsáan, and Maara’yam peoples, the proposed monument is home to numerous sites with cultural, natural, and spiritual significance for Indigenous peoples today. Spots like Corn Springs, which has supplied a welcome source of food and water to humans and animals alike for over 11,000 years, give life to the desert’s unique flora and fauna, providing sanctuary for migratory birds, desert bighorn sheep, and countless rare and captivating native plants. With sanctuaries of lush vegetation nestled among the landscape’s soaring peaks and twisting canyons, Chuckwalla is the cornerstone of a complex, vibrant, and vulnerable desert ecosystem. 

Chuckwalla is the missing link that connects six wilderness areas, Joshua Tree National Park, the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range, and the Salton Sea.

Native plant enthusiasts will find a lot to love in the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument. In a state that has lost 90% of its wetlands, Chuckwalla is home to expansive desert wash woodlands, also known as microphyll woodlands. This critically important habitat acts as the veins of the desert, supporting plant and animal life for miles around. Drought resistant, small leafed species make their homes in seasonal washes and streams which transport water, seeds, and nutrients to nearby ecosystems. These desert wash woodlands provide 95% of the habitat for migratory birds despite making up only 5% of the Sonoran Desert. The federally threatened desert tortoise also likes to take refuge in the thickets of desert ironwood (Olneya tesota), smoke tree (Psorothamnus spinosus), and blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) which cluster around Chuckwalla’s washes and springs.

Many other distinctive desert plants can be found in the dryer areas of the proposed monument, with vibrant displays of Mecca aster (Xylorhiza cognata) mingling with the endemic Orocopia sage (Salvia greatae). The rare Munz’s cholla (Cylindropuntia munzii), also endemic to the area, grows up to 10 feet tall, giving it the distinction of being the largest of the cholla species. Some of these species grow at the edge of their natural ranges, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change and other disturbances. National monument designation would help these and countless other plants continue to thrive so they can be enjoyed by future generations.

Smoketree (Psorothamnus spinosus) in Corn Springs Canyon; Image: Bob Wick

Lessons from Molok Luyuk

Although each campaign to designate a national monument is different, there is one critical thread that ties them all together: a demonstration of overwhelming support for a designation, especially from local communities, diverse user groups like hikers and hunters, local elected officials, and the Tribes whose ancestral lands are housed within the proposed monument boundary. CNPS has been honored to rally behind the leadership of our Tribal partners, and we made it our mission to help gather up the supporters of Molok Luyuk to show the President the importance of protecting this culturally significant and uniquely biodiverse landscape. 

As with Molok Luyuk, the effort to designate Chuckwalla National Monument began with a clear need for conservation, followed by widespread outreach and organizing to build public support. Although we can’t know exactly what it will take to get to a designation of Chuckwalla National Monument, our network of dedicated volunteers and staff must be ready to voice our support for this incredible landscape at every turn. We are grateful to those of you who have signed petitions in support of Chuchwalla’s designation, which already total 140,000. For those just learning about the Chuckwalla campaign, please add your name to the ever-growing list of supporters. Local business owners and community organizations have sent hundreds of letters of support to their elected representatives, and scientists continue to weigh in on the importance of the landscape to their research. With welcome legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler, and Representative Raul Ruiz to create the Chuckwalla National Monument and expand Joshua Tree National Park, Chuckwalla is well on its way to designation.

Take Action

It’s up to all of us to fight for the protection of this exquisite landscape. Here are a few ways you can take action and get involved in the campaign to designate Chuckwalla National Monument. 

  1. Sign this petition to show your support. 
  2. Scientists, please also add your name to this letter to President Biden.
  3. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the most recent monument news:
  4. Sign up here to be contacted right away when action in support of chuckwalla is needed.
  5. Contact Isobel Nairn at for more information or to get involved in advocacy and organizing for the campaign.

There will likely be opportunities for members of the community to speak in support of the proposal, and many of these opportunities pop up on short notice. To make sure you don’t miss important updates, we strongly encourage you to join our mailing list.

As a Wyss Conservation Fellow with CNPS, Isobel works to spotlight California’s unique biodiversity while advocating for the permanent protection of land through national monument designations. When she’s not at work, Isobel can be found climbing, crocheting, wandering around in the woods, or soaking up the sun with a good book.

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