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Joshua Tree National Park could expand by 22,000 acres

A plan to add more than 20,000 acres of land to the eastern part of Joshua Tree National Park is now nearing its final stages.

The plan proposes transferring land currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management to the national park. The land, known as the Eagle Mountain area, was part of Joshua Tree when it was designated a national monument in 1936. Since then, much of that land has been returned to the park — but not Eagle Mountain. In the 1990s, Eagle Mountain was the proposed site of a massive landfill, but that was eventually dropped after years of litigation.

Joshua Tree is currently about 800,000 acres, so this proposed addition might not transform the park — but it's still an important part of the park's history, said park superintendent David Smith.

"Eagle Mountain is a really interesting area," Smith told KPCC. "It's one of the mountain ranges that runs through that portion of the park, it provides a great habitat for bighorn sheep that are migrating from Cottonwood Mountains in the southern portion of the park to the Eagle Mountains, then eventually to the Coxcomb Mountains, so it's kind of a highway for bighorn sheep that are moving through the area."

The proposed acreage is currently part of Riverside County and also contains some private property. That land could become part of the park if its owners choose to either sell or donate it to the park.

A joint meeting of the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management for public comment on the proposal will be held Wednesday night on the UC Riverside Palm Desert Campus. The public comment period is open through Feb. 17.