Defending Our Desert Plan | The Work Continues

By Nick Jensen, CNPS Southern California Conservation Analyst

A natural desert garden among the Joshua trees – Judy Kramer

In the current issue of Flora magazine, we published a story about the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (the DRECP). Adopted in 2016, the DRECP has been a landmark conservation victory, the byproduct of eight years of stakeholder meetings, public comments, and community meetings. Since then, it has been recognized as a gold standard in regional conservation planning, creating solutions that both conservation and clean energy developers could accept. But now, the Trump administration is considering reopening the plan, putting more than 6 million acres of vital conservation land at risk.

A Unified Response

Since the Feb 1 announcement that BLM planned to reopen the DRECP, CNPS and a broad coalition of environmental organizations and readers like you have been advocating that the BLM leaves the DRECP untouched.

Hundreds of people attended eight public meetings held by BLM at locations in the California desert and in Sacramento. Combined, members of environmental organizations, including CNPS, submitted more than 42,000 written comments in support of the DRECP.

CNPS: Taking Actions to Defend the DRECP

While we await BLM’s decision following the close of the scoping period in late-March, CNPS is taking action to defend key provisions of the DRECP. Thanks to a Rapid Response Grant from the Rose Foundation, CNPS will be focused on three high priority efforts:

  1. Protecting and preserving microphyll woodlands

Microphyll woodlands are vital to desert biodiversity, so vital that DRECP requires all development to maintain a buffer away from microphyll woodlands and puts a premium on mitigating impacts if avoidance isn’t possible. Now, CNPS is developing a public activation campaign to raise awareness  and generate advocacy on behalf of this precious habitat. (Please watch for our social media videos featuring rarely scene woodland footage and other materials later this spring. Then share these posts with your networks and help us get the word out!)

  1. Protecting and preserving Joshua tree woodlands especially in transitional habitat

Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is an iconic desert species threatened by climate conditions that are changing faster than the species can respond. By all accounts, the best chances for the future of the Joshua tree are found in populations evolving along elevation gradients. Moving uphill is Joshua tree’s best bet for the future because only there can the tiny young trees find conditions cool and wet enough to establish and survive.

Similar to our microphyll woodlands campaign, CNPS will launch a public media campaign driving to concrete advocacy efforts. We’ll be meeting with BLM staff and partnering with the Joshua Tree Genome Project to conduct a training to enable CNPS members to collect data on how Joshua tree is responding in transitional habitats.

  1. Protecting and Preserving Special Plants of Desert ACECs

The DRECP established 134 Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs), representing approximately 4 of the 6 million new acres of conservation lands. If the DRECP is opened, the conservation designations for these lands are vulnerable to repeal, but only if BLM can demonstrate that the elevated protection of natural and cultural resources within each ACEC is unwarranted. We propose to identify and map botanical treasures within as many ACECs as we can, as quickly as we can, to be ready to increase protection for plants in these ACECs. To do this, we’ll be bringing together desert botanists for 2-day workshops to take virtual-tours of DRECP ACECs, identify botanical treasures in those that have them, and map these important desert botanical locations and advocate that their protection is a management focus within each respective ACEC.

For more information on how you can become involved in CNPS’ efforts in defense of the DRECP including Joshua tree and ACEC workshops please contact Southern California Conservation Analyst, Nick Jensen at


  1. Proponents of industrial scale solar installations in deserts, grasslands, and scrublands claim that such projects represent needed climate action, but rarely measure or mitigate the lost sequestration services provided by the habitats they would sacrifice. Sequestration in these areas is often more in the intact, living soil than in plant matter, and can be quite significant. The DRECP as it stands today resulted from a long and grueling public process in which all interests gave a little. To dismantle it would not only betray the good-faith efforts of all participants in its creation, but would discourage further good-faith efforts for any public lands, investing them with a sense of futility if the results of a long, grueling process could be so easily undone. The current DRECP isn’t perfect, but we are living with it, and are not willing to see it forfeited for reasons that have nothing to do with science or climate action.

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