BY SCOTT LEWIS
On the horizon is an incredible opportunity for one of the most iconic natural places in the Southern Calif. Joshua Tree National Park is a tremendous tourist attraction with more than 2.5 million visitors per year. Ecological integrity and ensuring access for the future generations to the natural resources is essential. The Department of Interior is soliciting comments on withdrawing more than 20,000 acres of the Bureau of Land Management’s Eagle Mountain lands from further development.
The Eagle Mountain lands were once part of Joshua Tree National Monument, but in 1950 Congress removed these lands from the park for mineral exploration. In the more than half a century of BLM management threatened the ecology of the desert with environmental proposals.
In 2015, Congressman Raul Ruiz requested the Park Service study the potential transfer of the Eagle Mountain lands, and return them back to the National Park Service. The study received over 10,000 comments with ,“the overwhelming majority in favor of returning the Eagle Mountain lands back to Joshua Tree National Park.” The transfer is not only feasible, but desirable for protecting the park and its natural resources.
Since youth, I have held a passion and love for the outdoors which was nurtured by my grandfather, one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. He is Native American and was born in a small town on Cherokee land in Oklahoma. Growing up, he took me into the wilderness on to camp, hunt, fish, and learn from him how it all works together. He instilled in me a healthy appreciation for the natural world, our family heritage and what God has entrusted to us. Now after a long career as an Army Reservist, during which I was deployed for seven years and in local law enforcement, I’ve retired and now settled in the California. As someone who served his nation and local community with pride, I recognize the need for our wilderness to remain available and accessible.The parks themselves provide tremendous restorative and healing environments for the public and our returning veterans who may be seeking a little solitude to collect themselves.
It’s essential to cherish, protect and reinvest in these invaluable lands for those who’ve served overseas or home. Improving accessibility, increasing recreational opportunities, protecting archaeological resources, and preserving biodiversity that is essential to our national heritage. Returning the Eagle Mountain lands to Joshua Tree National Park is a fitting way to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. To that end, there is an urgency for the Department of Interior to withdraw the Eagle Mountain Lands from further development and swiftly return them to Joshua Tree National Park.
Scott Lewis is a retired US Army Veteran, having served in theaters of operation in the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He further served his local community as a Deputy Sheriff in Northern California. He’s an avid hiker and hunter who resides in the Coachella Valley.