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California Desert Lands Protected Through Partnership

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avatar California Desert Lands Protected Through Partnership
January 16, 2015 02:52PM
A unique public-private partnership has blossomed in the California desert over the last decade which has led to the federal acquisition and permanent preservation of over 15,000 acres of private in-holdings across the vast landscapes of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and Mojave National Preserve.

The parks and preserve were established under the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, but in the years that followed appropriations for land acquisition didn't always arrive when landowners wanted to sell or when critical habitat was threatened by development. Enter the Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT).

Founded in 2005 by concerned local citizens, MDLT's mission is to acquire critical habitat for permanent preservation in the Mojave Desert, a need that cannot always be met with public dollars. MDLT went to work securing private funds from philanthropic foundations, non-profit organizations, and individual donors, and by 2006 had acquired its first property for gifting to the National Park Service.

Eight years and 234 transactions later, MDLT has transferred, mostly by donation, over 15,000 acres to NPS, and more is on the way.

MDLT currently holds over 10,000 acres in the three desert parks and plans to convey all of them to NPS over time. In 2011, Secretary of the Interior Salazar called for a collaborative, landscape-scale proposal to identify critical interagency land acquisition needs in the Mojave Desert, using the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as the funding vehicle.

In fiscal year 2014, Congress recognized the need with a LWCF appropriation of $2.3 million to acquire land at Joshua Tree and Mojave. Most of the land identified for acquisition is owned by MDLT.

Pacific West Region's Lands Division is currently working to purchase over 100 tracts from MDLT at market value. The well-established collaborative relationship that PWR Lands and MDLT enjoy greatly facilitates the transfer of these critical lands to federal ownership and protection. Since August 2014 alone, the PWR Lands Division has finalized the acquisition of 11 tracts containing approximately 200 acres within Mojave National Preserve.

There is one other benefit to this public-private partnership -- all proceeds from the sale of MDLT's lands to NPS will be used by MDLT to purchase more in-holdings from willing sellers in the three desert parks. Now that's an investment any public-private partnership would envy...
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