The California desert is far from empty—its ecosystems teem with life that includes iconic native plants like the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), and Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera). Yet public lands in the desert have been widely used for uncoordinated and large-scale solar projects. Recognizing the damage these projects were causing, government agencies, NGOs, industries, and other stakeholders both local and nationwide participated in an eight-year process of creating a plan for renewable energy and conservation.

Finalized in 2016, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is a landmark example of largescale energy planning. The DRECP created a blueprint for balancing renewable energy development and conservation of desert ecosystems on public lands. It is a shining example of smart-from-the-start land use planning, that can inform and inspire efforts to combat climate and biodiversity crises worldwide.

Since the plan was finalized, there have been numerous attempts to re-open–and potentially weaken–the DRECP. In 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a notice that the DRECP would be re-opened to explore additional lands for renewable energy development, potentially putting at risk more than six million acres of vital conservation lands. Fortunately, on March 12, 2021, the Bureau of Land Management announced the termination of the planning process that would reopen the DRECP.

But on December 8, 2022, the BLM issued a notice that it will again consider reopening the DRECP. Putting the DRECP under review risks the careful balance between renewable energy development areas and conservation protections that was painstakingly negotiated through the DRECP’s 8-year development process.

As the voice for California’s native plants, CNPS is fighting alongside a strong coalition of conservation organizations to advocate on behalf of the DRECP and California’s deserts. It won’t be easy, but we are committed to defending the DRECP against this and future threats.

Joshua trees in Inyo County. Credit Greg Suba.
Joshua trees in Inyo County. Credit Greg Suba.

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