by Shawnetta Grandberry A Treasured Place An ever-changing sea of sand moves across the Coachella Valley’s desert floor past the lush green palm oases dotting the an- cient landscape. As the sand fans out from the mouth of the canyons, winds lift and sweep it through the valley, placing heavier sand on the valley floor and finer sand farther away. The flat windblown sand deposits on the valley floor are vital wildlife habitat but are also in strong demand for agriculture and urbanization. 8 ENDANGERED SPECIES BULLETIN JULY/AUGUST 2000 VOLUME XXV NO. 4 The Coachella Valley is located in conservation plans (HCPs). These plans biodiversity by focusing on the needs of southeastern California at the northern are designed to reduce conflicts be- entire ecosystems, including their range end of the Colorado Desert, and is tween conservation and economic of inhabitants, rather than on individual bordered by the Salton Sea to the south growth by fostering creative partnerships species. The goal of the plan is to and the Little San Bernardino Mountains that address the conservation needs of conserve natural desert communities to the north. The “blowsand” ecosystem listed species and continued economic before their native species have de- of the Coachella Valley supports a prosperity. Although rarely used until clined to the point that protection under variety of unique animals and plants the early 1990s, the HCP process has the federal and/or state endangered adapted to living in the harsh desert proven to be an effective conservation species acts is necessary. The plan environment. Species such as the tool. In 1991, the state of California would provide for the creation of a Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard (Uma initiated its own version, the Natural preserve system that protects sensitive inornata), Coachella Valley milk-vetch Community Conservation Planning desert habitat types such as riparian and (Astragalus lentiginosus var. (NCCP) program. This program is a desert dry wash woodland, blowsand coachellae), triple-ribbed milk-vetch voluntary, cooperative approach that habitat, mesquite hummocks, palm (Astragalus tricarinatus), and a variety fosters economic growth by allowing oases, and a mosaic of other native of other endangered, threatened, and development in certain areas while vegetation communities. The preserve sensitive plants and animals depend on preserving key habitats for the long- system would provide for the long-term the dynamic blowsand ecosystem for term survival of native species. It has biological needs of 30 species, including their survival. been widely applauded by developers, the endangered peninsular bighorn From prehistoric times to the early landowners, planners, and others. The sheep (Ovis canadensis), desert slender twentieth century, the Cahuilla Indians NCCP program’s primary goal is the salamander (Batrachoseps aridus), least were the sole inhabitants of the protection of rare habitat types within a Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus), Coachella Valley. As a hunter-gatherer 6,000-square-mile (15,500-square- southwestern arroyo toad (Bufo society, the Cahuilla established a kilometer) area that covers portions of microscaphus californicus), and other number of permanent and semi- five southern California counties: San listed and sensitive plants and animals. permanent settlements within the valley. Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside Participating federal, state, and local Beginning in the early 1900s, settlers and San Bernardino. This approach agencies will cooperate in implementing established travel routes throughout the marks a departure from the traditional the conservation strategies outlined in area and built permanent settlements. project-by-project review of impacts on the plan once it is adopted. Large-scale, Agriculture, housing developments, off- sensitive species toward a more compre- long-term cooperative efforts such as highway vehicle recreation, and the hensive landscape-based effort to the Coachella Valley MSHCP will introduction of non-native, invasive conserve species and their habitat. become more important as human plant species (especially Russian thistle One of several large-scale HCPs populations in and around the and tamarisk) have resulted in the underway within the southern California Coachella Valley increase. decline of sand dunes and blockage of NCCP planning area is the Coachella natural sand transport corridors. Today, Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conser- Shawnetta Grandberry is an Infor- more than 200,000 people reside in the vation Plan (MSHCP). This plan is being mation and Education Specialist with Coachella Valley, and more than 1 developed through a collaboration the Service’s Carlsbad, California, Office. million others visit the area each year. among government agencies and By 2010, the number of permanent partners in the private, public, and residents is expected to double. The nonprofit sectors, including the County continuing development of the of Riverside, nine cities, the Coachella Coachella Valley will have significant Valley Association of Governments, effects on the long-term sustainability of California Department of Fish and the ecosystem. Without a concerted Game, U.S. Forest Service, National effort to conserve the sand transport Park Service, Bureau of Land Manage- system, the remaining blowsand habitat ment, and Fish and Wildlife Service. will become increasingly fragmented This groundbreaking HCP will promote and could even disappear within 50 to the protection of desert ecosystems on 100 years. approximately 1.3 million acres (0.5 In 1982, the Endangered Species Act million hectares) in Riverside was amended to allow for the develop- County.Initiated in 1993, the Coachella Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard USFWS photo above and opposite page ment and implementation of habitat Valley MSHCP aims to preserve ENDANGERED SPECIES BULLETIN JULY/AUGUST 2000 VOLUME XXV NO. 4 9
"Endangered Species Bulletin, Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard"