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Desert Protective Council (1954-2017) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Desert Protective Council (1954-2017)

Historical Note:

The Desert Protective Council (DPC) was first hatched around a campfire in October 1954. What started as a group of over 100 individuals successfully resolving to protect Joshua Tree National Monument from mining grew into a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of desert plants, animals, and landscapes. Notable conservationists of the time were affiliated with the DPC, including the organization's first President and Executive Director, Desert Magazine founder Randall Henderson; biologist Edmund Jaeger; Trailfinders founder Harry C. James; and Dr. Henry Weber. The organization was officially incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit in July 1955, a designation that would allow for political lobbying for their various causes.

Members spent the following 62 years advocating for various environmental issues. This activism took many different forms, including but not limited to: spearheading public educational programs, corresponding with government officials regarding proposed legislation, commenting on environmental management plans by the Bureau of Land Management and similar agencies, and engaging in litigation when no other option was feasible. The Desert Protection Council worked to prevent excessive off-road activity, dams in Grand Canyon National Park, military expansion, and the construction of a road through the Santa Rosa mountains that would have destroyed a large riparian area in Anza-Borrego State Park.

In the 1970s and 1980s, board members reviewed numerous drafts and amendments to the California Desert Plan, which established the California Desert Conservation Area and helped conserve millions of acres in the California Desert. Later, the Desert Protective Council aided in the drafting and passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. This monumental federal law designated 69 additional areas into the National Wilderness Preservation System and incorporated Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Monuments into National Parks, thus ensuring future preservation of the lands.

In 2001, the Desert Protective Council was one of five environmental organizations to receive $1.67 million in a settlement against the Gold Fields Mining Corporation and their goal of establishing a landfill in Imperial County. The money from the settlement was used to create the "Mesquite Fund," which the Desert Protective Council used to fund various educational programs in Imperial County. The Anza-Borrego Foundation's Camp Borrego, a three-day overnight field trip for fifth-grade students, was one such project and allowed for the participation of over 90 students each year from 2004 to 2016. The Salton Basin Living Laboratory Field Trip likewise supported the education of over one thousand fourth, fifth, and sixth graders between 2008 and 2012.

In March 2017, the Desert Protective Council was dissolved and their assets and mission were passed along to non-profit Basin and Range Watch. The legacy of the DPC can also be seen in the Anza-Borrego Foundation, the official nonprofit of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which was born from the Desert Protective Council's Anza-Borrego Committee and became a state-recognized nonprofit in 1988.

Note Author: Riley Wilson

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