California Native Plant Society

Conservation Program

Archives of CNPS Action on Desert Related Issues

BLM Desert Plans: Three large-scale ecosystem management plans that collectively cover almost 22 million acres are in the final stages of adoption for the California Deserts, and will determine the management of the deserts for the next 20 years. CNPS is actively participating in these efforts with the goal to achieve conservation of unique and common vegetation resources (see Fremontia 27:2, April 1999). Some of the most significant issues are: Weed Invasions, Desert Washes, Grazing, Mining, Habitat Fragmentation, Riparian, Unique Plant Assemblages, and Desert Dunes. The three major plans include the Northern and Eastern Colorado Desert (NECO), the Northern and Eastern Mojave Desert (NEMO), and the West Mojave Plan (WEMO).

CNPS has been "at the table" through all these planning processes. Our comment letters include:




Fort Irwin Expansion:
The Fort Irwin National Training Center, located north of Barstow, California is proposing an expansion to the southeast and southwest of the existing fort of 134, 592 acres.  They will be doing tank training in the expansion area. 

The western expansion area is home to the Mojave desert endemic – Lane Mountain milkvetch (Astragalus jaegerianus).  This species was listed as endangered in 1998 under the Federal Endangered Species Act, due to low population numbers (approximately 50 individuals).  Subsequently, the Army has performed many surveys for the species and identified a greater number of individuals (approximately 5000 individuals).  Unfortunately, a large percentage of them occur in the proposed expansion area of Fort Irwin.  Even worse, the plants prefer the tops of rolling hills, which are readily accessible to the tank training.  Although CNPS does not oppose a strong military, our concern with the proposed expansion of THIS military training facility is its potential to eliminate the Lane Mountain milkvetch from the planet. 

For more information on the expansion:

CNPS has been opposing any expansion that would threaten the Lane Mountain Milkvetch or any other rare plants/community.  Our comments include:

Additional information and comment letters on the Lane Mountain Milkvetch include:

Current Desert Conservation Committee Projects

The Desert Conservation Committee is a group of CNPS members with an affinity and love of the Callifornia deserts. This group is made up of members from a variety of CNPS chapters, and who meet regularly for field trips and plant surveys and strategy meetings to ensure desert conservation.

Their projects include:

Vertical Veg: The objective of Project Vertical Veg was to develop a long-term vegetation inventory and monitoring (I&M) system for high visitor use areas within Joshua Tree National Park through a community partnership approach. We addressed human impacts on cryptobiotic soil crusts and plant cover in relation to rocky outcrops that are popular climbing areas. Related management issues include: (1) a need to manage social trails, (2) a lack of baseline data and a system for long-term monitoring of soil and vegetation adjacent to boulder formations, (3) a lack of outreach to the climbing community regarding resource impact issues, (4) the need for baseline data on park species of concern, and (5) the need for baseline data on exotic plant species. The I&M system is based on stratified random sampling using large (1000 m2), multi-scale plots for collection of soils and vegetation data. In 1999, 30 plots were established. We encountered 124 native plant species (6 are of concern), and 8 exotic plant species. Overall, native vegetation and cryptobiotic soil crusts were negatively affected by disturbance. However, simple delineation of trails and the development of outreach materials on minimizing visitor impacts hold great potential to reduce negative impacts. This report recommends that Park Managers continue to monitor vegetation and soil crusts, work closely with Park users, and modify management as necessary to insure the protection of plant and soil resources. Report: Vertical Veg Final Report (PDF, 1Mb)

Rare Mint in a Rock Climbing Mecca: In cooperation with Joshua Tree National Park, and generously funded by the National Fish And Wildlife Foundation, the CNPS and Joshua Tree National Park modeled and ground-truthed occurrences of a rare mint (Monardella robisonii) in the Park. This species was known from fewer than 10 locations in the Park, and is found in the bouldery habitat that is popular for world-class rock-climbing. By modeling and locating populations within these areas, the Park is better able to manage popular rock climbs, while minimizing damage to this rare species.

Algodones Dunes Monitoring: In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Fish and Game, CNPS has participated in annual surveys since 1998 of monitoring a suite of endemic plant species in the Algodones (also known as the Imperial Sand) dunes, both in wilderness and in Off-Highway-Vehicle Open Areas. The data is analyzed by the BLM and used to make land management decisions. The management issues on the Algodones Dunes (also known as the Imperial Sand Dunes) is on-going. The monitored species include:

The BLM reports are found at:

Dune Trekking. CNPS volunteers monitoring rare plants on the Algdones (Imperial) Sand Dunes. Photo by Ileene Anderson.
Algodones Dunes plant surveyors

Algodones Dunes Advocacy

The CNPS has also strongly advocated for plant conservation on the Algodones Dunes, based on the best available science. The multiple use mandate of the Bureau of Land Management sets up user conflicts between conservation of the suite of rare plants that only occur in California on the Algodones Dunes and the Off-Road Vehicle Open Area, where vehicles can drive anywhere.  Our comment letters include:

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area Management Plan:

Additional information on Peirson’s milkvetch including Critical Habitat:

Rare Plants on Public Grazing Allotments:
In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management-California Desert District, CNPS initiated a series of surveys on the status of known rare plant populations on public grazing allotments. Twenty-five populations of 16 different species were targeted in the spring of 1998. Sixteen of the targeted populations were found (64%), and three new populations were discovered. Over one hundred known populations still need to be surveyed for during the appropriate season. CNPS is revisiting a number of selected populations to establish population trends.

Desert Beauty (Linanthus bellus) is a diminutive rare annual that occurs on some grazing allotments (photo by Ileene Anderson)
Spring Beauty (Linanthus bellus) – a rare plant

Native Vegetation Pilot Project (NVPP):
Livestock have grazed on California deserts for over 100 years, but no scientific studies have ever been conducted to assess the effects of grazing on desert ecological processes. The Native Vegetation Pilot Project will collect scientific data currently lacking in an effort to assess grazing impacts. Seven key tasks have been identified and CNPS and the BLM have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to support the NVPP.

Additional Information

CNPS Policy for Hot Desert Grazing

Desert Issues Internet Links


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