Introduction - West Mojave Plan
Our goal is to conserve and protect the desert tortoise and nearly 100 other sensitive plants and animals, as well as the ecosystems on which they depend. At the same time, we want to provide developers of public and private projects with a streamlined program for compliance with the California and federal endangered species acts that regulates consistently, reduces delays and expenses, eliminates uncertainty and applies the costs of compensation and mitigation equitably to all agencies and parties.
The 9.4 million-acre planning area encompasses most of California's western Mojave Desert. It extends from Olancha in Inyo County on the north to the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains on the south, and from the Antelope Valley on the west to the Mojave National Preserve on the east. About one third of the planning area is private land, another third is within military bases, and the final third consists of public lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The Human Setting
Bordering the rapidly-growing Los Angeles basin, the population of the western Mojave Desert has tripled over the last twenty years, and rapid growth is expected to continue over the next few decades. The planning area is the site of urban expansion and its associated effects, and is a popular recreation region. In addition, mining, agriculture, grazing and other activities are widespread. The region is the site of wind and solar energy generating plants, and is criss-crossed by electric transmission lines and highways, as well as water, crude oil and natural gas pipelines, all of which serve coastal California urban areas.
The West Mojave is an area rich in biological diversity. Vegetation communities and landforms are varied because of its location adjacent to the Transverse Ranges of the South Coast Bioregion, the Sierra Bioregion, the Great Basin Bioregion, and the Colorado Desert Bioregion. The West Mojave region has an average annual rainfall of 6 inches, occurring primarily in winter. The elevation ranges from about 1,000 feet to slightly over 5,000 feet. Temperature ranges from below freezing in winter to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
The most common vegetation communities in the planning area are Mojave creosote bush scrub, desert saltbush scrub, Mojave mixed woody scrub, Mojavean pinyon and juniper woodland, blackbrush scrub, and Mojavean juniper woodland.
There are many special status species that are known to occur in the planning area. Special status species refers to animal and plant species that are listed as threatened or endangered, are proposed for listing, or are candidates for listing by the state and / or federal government. It also includes species that are California protected species and California species of special concern; species designated as sensitive by the BLM; and plants identified by the California Native Plant Society as rare, threatened, endangered, or of limited distribution in California. The inclusion of species in the planning effort does not represent an attempt to have them all federally or state-listed as threatened or endangered. Rather, the purpose of including species in the West Mojave planning effort is to find ways to keep them from ever having to be listed.
The West Mojave Plan is being jointly prepared by agencies having administrative responsibility or regulatory authority over species of concern within the planning area. The plan will enable the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) to issue programmatic biological opinions, incidental take permits and "no surprises" assurances to each of the participating agencies at the conclusion of the planning process. The plan will function as a habitat conservation plan for the permit applications. These programmatic opinions, permits and assurances will allow local jurisdictions and agencies to provide developers of public and private projects with permits containing standardized mitigation and compensation requirements that are pre-approved by USFWS and CDFG as being in compliance with the California and federal endangered species acts. Permits could be issued quickly without the need for time-consuming case-by-case consultations with USFWS and CDFG. The plan is currently under preparation and will be completed in 2002.
The participating agencies include the following:
- Incorporated towns and cities: Adelanto, Apple Valley, Barstow, California City, Hesperia, Lancaster, Palmdale, Ridgecrest, Twentynine Palms, Victorville, and Yucca Valley
- Counties: Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino
- Special district: Indian Wells Valley Water District
- State agencies: the Department of Parks and Recreation, the State Lands Commission, Department of Fish and Game
- Military installations: China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, Edwards Air Force Base, Fort Irwin National Training Center, Marine Corps Logistics Base at Nebo / Yermo, and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms
- Other federal agencies: National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Goldstone, BLM, USFWS and National Park Service
- Numerous unincorporated communities
The participating agencies are cooperating with a variety of business, environmental organizations, user groups and others with a stake in the future management of the planning area. This "Supergroup" will collectively develop the West Mojave Plan.
On September 10, 1997, the Supergroup adopted the following mission statement and principles to guide their preparation of the West Mojave Plan.
The West Mojave Plan will provide an improved and streamlined process which minimizes the need for individual consultations with the USFWS and CDFG while providing better science for species conservation. The Plan will allow projects to be approved and signed-off rapidly. Project proponents will know the mitigation measures that will be required of them before the project is presented to the local government or, in the case of public land, presented to the state or federal agency.
- The ultimate goal of the Plan will be based on specified measures to enable project proponents to comply with the requirements of the California and federal endangered species acts.
- The Plan will be equitable, predictable and compatible with local, state and federal agency permitting procedures so as to be easily administered.
- The mitigation strategy will be responsive to the needs and unique characteristics of the many diverse industries and activities in the program area on both public and private land while allowing compatible economic growth.
- Project proponents shall have a choice of utilizing the conservation program or working directly with the CDFG or USFWS to address endangered species act compliance.
- The Plan will incorporate realistic fiscal considerations, with identified sources, i.e. federal, state, local, public and private.
- The Plan will ensure that no one group of desert users will be singled out to disproportionately bear the burden of Plan implementation.
- The Plan will have the flexibility to respond to future legislative, regulatory and judicial requirements.
BENEFITS OF THE PLAN
Adoption of the plan will benefit landowners, land developers and users, and land management and regulatory agencies by:
- Providing a streamlined, predictable permit process
- Defining consistent mitigation and compensation obligations
- Reducing project costs by eliminating the need for biological surveys in certain areas
- Reducing the need for project-specific incidental take permits
- Reducing the uncertainty related to requirements for long-term species and habitat conservation
The West Mojave plan is an attempt at defining a regional strategy for conserving plant and animal species and their habitats and to define an efficient, equitable, and cost-effective process for complying with threatened and endangered species laws.