Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Nestled within the western extension of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the 31,000-acre Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) is managed by BLM to preserve its outstanding natural and scenic values as well as recreational opportunities within a preserve environment. Located approximately 15 miles north of Palm Springs, California, this area is characterized by steep canyons, rugged terrain and desert oases. The area is especially high in natural diversity due to its location within a transition between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. The Preserve includes an internationally recognized desert oasis and marsh that is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California. It is also identified by the Audubon Society as one of the most important avian habitat areas in California.
To preserve the oasis and save this very unique ecological habitat, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) purchased 80 acres from J.L. Covington in 1968. Soon afterward, San Bernardino County obtained 160 acres in the adjacent canyon and, in 1974, the combined 240 acres were dedicated as a Wildlife Preserve. In 1980, the BLM designated Big Morongo Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in recognition of the ecological features of the area surrounding the oasis and marsh. The ACEC was enlarged over the years under BLM land use plan amendments to the present 31,000 acres. In 1994, the BLM assumed the management of TNC lands and has since acquired, through purchase or donation, over 6,000 acres within the Preserve. The BLM manages the San Bernardino County lands in the Preserve in coordination with the County Regional Parks Department.
Visitor Facilities and Activities
In 1982, the BLM completed a management plan for the Preserve and designated a Preserve Manager on the staff of the Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office. Over the years, the BLM has developed visitor programs and facilities, coordinated management of the Preserve with the San Bernardino County Regional Parks Department, and helped organize the Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. The Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve are invaluable in support of the visitor and environmental education programs through publications, hosting the Preserve website, fund raising, training of docents, and community outreach. Visitors can enjoy eight miles of trails along with parking, picnicking, and restrooms within the site. The docents lead seasonal hikes through the area; click here for a schedule of trails hikes.
The BLM supports three on-site Hosts at the Preserve, along with over 50 volunteers and the docents. The Preserve Environmental Education Program is extremely successful and serves all the schools of the Morongo Basin Unified School District, as well as many public and private schools in neighboring school districts.
The Preserve is a Watchable Wildlife site, and is part of the DOI’s “Hands on the Land” and “Take It Outside” education initiatives. The Preserve receives over 60,000 visitors each year and provides bird walks in addition to the hikes.
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve/ACEC is well recognized as an important wildlife corridor that links BLM’s San Gorgonio Wilderness with the San Bernardino National Forest and Joshua Tree National Park. This corridor allows wildlife; including mule deer, big horn sheep, and mountain lions, to move freely within this area in search of food and water. Perennial water within the area provides a much-needed stopping point for migrating birds and is essential to the survival of a wide variety of birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, and reptiles. The lush vegetation that grows in the canyon is a sharp contrast to the surrounding dry, desert slopes.
Today, the Preserve is managed to protect rare and endangered wildlife, to promote the growth and restoration of a wide variety of plants, and to offer educational opportunities for students and nature lovers of all ages. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is an internationally-recognized birding site. Several rare or unusual species are known to nest here, and many other species are abundant during the spring and fall migration seasons. The Preserve has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy, the American Birding Association, and the Watchable Wildlife National Program, and is featured in the National Geographic Guide to Bird Watching Sites. Over 247 bird species have been recorded in the Preserve, with at least 72 resident breeding species.
The Preserve has undergone two significant fires since 1990, with rebuilding of the facilities and trails done under BLM supervision. The most recent fire, in 2005, burned over 2,000 acres in the Preserve and required extensive repair and replacement of the boardwalks, trails, and interpretive facilities. The BLM rebuilt all the damaged facilities to meet and exceed American for Disability Act and other standards. In addition, the BLM proactively protects and manages the Preserve through restoration of damaged lands, law enforcement patrols, construction of fencing and barriers to eliminate off highway vehicle (OHV) impacts, and education of the public.
As part of the restoration projects in the Preserve, the BLM has utilized the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and other volunteers. During the 2004-2007 field seasons, SCA crews restored numerous impacts including unauthorized off highway vehicle (OHV) routes, soil erosion, fire lines and other impacts related to the recent fires, invasive species and illegal dumps. Restoration work included advanced erosion control techniques such as “pit and mulch”, plantings and seeding, water diversion bars, and wattle installation. Restoration efforts were focused in Blind and Little Morongo Canyons as well as the main oasis and northern ACEC boundary within Morongo Valley.
Birds at the Big Morongo Preserve
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is an internationally recognized birding site. Several rare or unusual species are known to nest here, and many other species are abundant during the spring and fall migration seasons.
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve has been designated as one of the United States' Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy, the American Birding Association, and Watchable Wildlife National Program, and is featured in the National Geographic Guide to Birdwatching Sites.
BirdList-BigMorongo.pdf (pdf - 122 kb)