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Endangered Species Bulletin, Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard


									    by Shawnetta
                                                        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.
   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

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