U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
For Release: September 25, 2008
BLM Completes Land Acquisition To Protect Ecosystem
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently completed the last of a series of land acquisitions in the Palm Springs area designed to protect the sand dunes ecosystem critical to the survival of the threatened Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard and other native species, the BLM's California Desert District announced today.
BLM Desert District Manager Steve Borchard said the purchased land, on the southwest side of Joshua Tree National Park adjacent to the existing Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Preserve, had previously been proposed for a large residential and commercial development. "We were able to take advantage of federal legislation that allows us to use funds from sales of unneeded public lands to purchase lands like these adjacent to specially designated areas," he explained. "With those funds, and the efforts of a strong partnership of other government and private partners, a long-term conservation vision for the Coachella Valley has finally become a reality."
The purchased land is important for maintaining the vitality of a system of wind-blown sand dunes -- the only habitat for fringe-toed lizards. The acquisitions also provide an important linkage for bobcat, kit fox, and desert bighorn sheep to move between the national park and the Coachella Valley Preserve. Borchard explained that the BLM purchase was just part of a total acquisition of 8,881 acres (about 14 square miles) near Palm Springs, Calif., that was made possible through the partnership of a number of organizations. "In particular, it was through the efforts and generosity of the nonprofit Friends of the Desert Mountains," says Borchard, "that BLM was able to purchase the final 621 acres for the Coachella Valley Preserve at a considerable discount."
The acquisition came in response to a proposal in 2001 to build 12 golf courses, three hotels, two country clubs, a university, numerous retail shops and restaurants, as well as 7,000 homes, on a portion of the land.
BLM Wildlife Biologist Larry LaPre points out that the development would have interrupted the essential flow of sand for the dune system that serves as the habitat for the fringe-toed lizard. "The acquired property," LaPre explained, "contains the Little San Bernardino Mountains fluvial sand transport system. The transport system begins high in the nearby mountains where flash floods break down boulders into rocks. Continuing downstream, flash floods break rocks into pebbles, and finally pebbles into sand -- all within just a few miles.
"This area," continued LaPre, "is core habitat for a number of species, including the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, the Palm Springs pocket mouse, the Coachella Valley milkvetch, the Coachella Valley giant sand-treader cricket, and the Coachella Valley round-tailed ground squirrel. In addition to the disruption of the sand transport system, fertilizers from golf courses and urban runoff would have entered the preserve, resulting in a fertile environment for weeds, sand dunes that no longer shifted with the wind, and loss of habitat for dune-dependent species."
Within a year of the 2001 announcement of the plans for the large residential and commercial development, The Nature Conservancy and Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy began negotiations to purchase the property, according to Bill Havert, executive director of Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy. "By May of 2003," Havert says, "the developer agreed to a $26 million purchase price for land valued at $40 million. The developer would make up the loss through tax deductions. Then came the challenge of finding the money. The Mountains Conservancy took the lead and rounded up $23 million in funds from local ($4 million), state ($16.5 million), and non-profit ($2.5 million) sources. That left a $3 million shortfall jeopardizing this critical acquisition.
"The Conservancy approached BLM, which said it would do whatever it took to work with the rest of the partners to make it happen, but they didn't have immediate funds available. On the strength of BLM's commitment, however, the Friends of the Desert Mountains, a local non-profit organization, borrowed the remaining $3 million needed from the city of Palm Desert to allow the land to be purchased, with the knowledge that BLM would buy that land from the Friends so it could repay the loan."
According to Borchard, BLM was able to use funds available through both the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) to complete the purchases and fulfill its commitments. "This addition to the Coachella Valley Preserve" says Borchard, "is great news for preserving the last five percent of what was originally 100 square miles of wind-blown sand dunes. The acquisition has many heroes – and will remain a superb example of what partnerships can accomplish." Borchard also noted that the allocation of FLTFA funds to complete these acquisitions was supported by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. "Together, we've made a big step in preserving an ecosystem."
The Coachella Valley Preserve is jointly managed by the BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, California State Parks, and the Center for Natural Lands Management. The Coachella Valley Preserve Visitor Center, 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Road, Thousand Palms, Calif., is open year-round except for July and August.
California Desert District Office – 22835 Calle San Juan De Los Lagos, Moreno Valley, California - (951) 697-5220