California Native Plant Society

Conservation Program

Native Vegetation Pilot Project

The Native Vegetation Pilot Project (NVPP) answers questions about how grazing affects deserts in California. Seven tasks described below will collect scientific data currently lacking in any monitoring program on the California deserts.

Livestock have grazed on the California deserts for over 100 years. Land was intermittently but heavily grazed between 1900 and 1940, and few areas of the California deserts have never supported stock animals. Despite past and contemporary grazing, few scientific studies in the deserts have considered the effect of grazing on ecological processes in this part of California.

Cattle damage a sensitive riparian area (photo by Ileene Anderson)

The Bureau of Land Management currently manages 4.5 million acres of public lands within the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA), allowing perennial and/or ephemeral livestock grazing on approximately 36% their total lands. From 1991/1992, the federal General Administration Office (GAO) produced a series of three reports on public lands that criticized rangeland management (GAO 1991a, 1991b and 1992). The BLM’s conclusion that "public rangeland is in better condition than ever before in the century" - could not be confirmed (GAO 1991a, b). The November 1991 report, which addressed the Hot Desert Grazing Program (that covers the NVPP study area), concluded that "current livestock grazing activity on BLM allotments in hot desert areas risks long-term environmental damage while not generating grazing fee revenues sufficient to provide for adequate management." It also stated that "BLM lack staff resources needed to collect and evaluate data measuring the impact of livestock grazing on many desert allotments. Without these data, BLM is not in a position to assess livestock usage…and change usage as needed." In the third report on monitoring, the GAO found that only 20% of the allotments had been monitored, and the BLM had "generally not analyzed the data and decided on appropriate grazing levels." These reports initiated the Rangeland Reform Final Environmental Impact Statement (1994) that mandated that watersheds are to be in or progressing toward "properly functioning condition", that ecological processes are to be maintained or progressing toward attainment and that habitats for threatened or endangered species are to be restored, maintained or improving.

With this background we have designed each task described below to serve a discrete purpose. Our intent is to provide scientific data on how grazing affects the ecological processes, and to make this information available for land management decisions. This project works to sustain the integrity of our public lands in California for the long-term perspective.

Seven Tasks of the NVPP

  1. Develop A Scientific Sampling Methodology for Allotments including the identification of Biologically comparable sites.
  2. Implement of Sampling.
  3. Assess the Condition of Populations of Sensitive, Rare, Threatened or Endangered Plant Species.
  4. Survey Unusual Plant Assemblages (UPA’s), that were originally designated in the California Desert Plan (1980).
  5. Evaluate riparian/wetland areas for Proper Functioning Condition (PFC).
  6. Nominate Research Natural Areas (RNA’s) For Special attention.
  7. Map Non-Native (Exotic) Weeds on the Allotments.

To support of the Native Vegetation Pilot Project (NVPP), the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The data from this long-term study of vegetation on our public lands can be used to manage natural resources in southeastern California.


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