Palm Springs Pocket Mouse PV6111W CVMSHCP Plan Appendix I Major Amendment Revisions 3 2014

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Proposed Major Amendment to the Coachella Valley MSHCP – March 2014
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Section Page No.
PURPOSE OF APPENDIX I ........................................................................................................................ 1
1.0 BACKGROUND, PURPOSE, SCOPE, PROCESS, AND REGULATORY CONTEXT ....................... 2
1.1 Public Meetings Held ........................................................................................................................ 2
2.0 PLAN AREA PROFILE ............................................................................................................................... 8
3.0 PLAN DEVELOPMENT .............................................................................................................................. 9
3.1 Composition and Role of the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) ............................................... 9
3.2 Conservation Planning Methodology .............................................................................................. 16
3.2.1 Best Available Science Standard ...................................................................................... 16
3.2.2 Planning Objectives and Key Concepts ............................................................................ 18
3.2.2.1 Planning at Species, Community, and Ecosystem Levels .................................. 18
3.2.2.2 Coarse Filter and Fine Filter Approach .............................................................. 19
3.2.2.3 Key Concepts ..................................................................................................... 19
3.3 Independent Science Advisors ........................................................................................................ 32
3.4 Field Surveys Completed during Plan Preparation ......................................................................... 89
3.5 Natural Communities Mapping ....................................................................................................... 91
3.5.1 Natural Communities Map ................................................................................................ 91
3.5.2 Accuracy Assessment ....................................................................................................... 93
3.5.3 Historical Natural Communities Map ............................................................................... 93
3.6 Species Habitat Distribution Modeling ........................................................................................... 98
3.6.1 Overview of the Modeling Process ................................................................................... 98
3.6.2 Parameters for Each Species Distribution Model ........................................................... 101
3.6.3 Species for Which No Model Was Developed ............................................................... 102
3.6.4 Review and Validation of Species Distribution Models ................................................. 102
3.7 Site Identification Process ............................................................................................................. 103
3.7.1 Iterative Site Identification Process ................................................................................ 103
3.7.1.1 First Iteration of Site Identification Mapping: Quantitative GIS Analysis ....... 103
3.7.1.2 First Iteration Site Identification Alternatives .................................................. 106
3.7.1.3 Second Iteration of Site Identification Mapping:
Incorporation of Ecosystem Processes, Endemic Species,
and Conservation Status ................................................................................... 107
3.7.1.4 Third Iteration of Site Identification Mapping: Identification of
Highest Conservation Value Areas ................................................................... 108
3.7.2 Development of Initial Conservation Alternatives ......................................................... 110
3.7.2.1 Initial Conservation Alternative 1 .................................................................... 110
3.7.2.2 Initial Conservation Alternative 2 .................................................................... 117
3.7.2.3 Initial Conservation Alternative 3 .................................................................... 119
3.7.3 Evaluation of Initial Conservation Alternatives ............................................................. 122
3.7.3.1 Statistical Analysis of Alternatives ................................................................... 123
3.7.3.2 Administrative Review Draft............................................................................ 123
3.7.3.3 SITES Model .................................................................................................... 123
3.7.4 Development of Draft Preferred Alternative .................................................................. 124
3.8 Species Considered but Not Included in the Plan ......................................................................... 125
3.8.1 Review of Species Identified in the Original MOU ........................................................ 125
3.9 Natural Communities Not Included in the Plan ............................................................................ 132
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TABLE OF CONTENTS (cont.)
Section Page No.
3.10 Sources of Biological Data............................................................................................................ 137
3.10.1 List of Reports Consulted for Species Distribution Information .................................... 138
3.10.2 Museums Contacted for Specimens from Target Species List ....................................... 150
4.0 ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MSHCP RESERVE SYSTEM .............................................................. 152
4.1 Analysis of Other Conserved Habitat for Covered Species and
Broadly Distributed Natural Communities Conserved through
Other Conservation Objectives ..................................................................................................... 152
4.2 Acquisitions since the Planning Agreement .................................................................................. 159
4.3 Model MOU .......................................................................................................................... 161
4.4 Dimensions of Culverts and Bridges That function as Biological Corridors ................................ 164
4.4.1 Stubbe Canyon Wash Biological Corridor under I-10 .................................................... 164
4.4.2 Whitewater River and San Gorgonio River Biological Corridors under Highway 111 .. 164
4.4.3 Whitewater River Biological Corridor under the I-10 .................................................... 165
4.4.4 Mission Creek Biological Corridors under Hwy 62 ....................................................... 165
4.4.5 Mission Creek and Willow Wash Biological Corridors under I-10 ................................ 165
4.4.6 Biological Corridors under the I-10 Freeway in the Desert Tortoise and
Linkage Conservation Area ............................................................................................ 166
5.0 COSTS OF AND FUNDING FOR PLAN IMPLEMENTATION ........................................................ 167
5.1 Land Costs .......................................................................................................................... 167
5.2 Land Improvement Costs .............................................................................................................. 169
5.3 CVCC Administrative Costs ......................................................................................................... 169
6.0 PLAN IMPLEMENTATION ................................................................................................................... 171
6.1 Conservation Areas Conservation Objectives for Use in Rough Step Analysis ........................... 171
6.2 Mitigation Matrix for I-10 Interchange and Related Arterial Projects .......................................... 195
7.0 TAKE AUTHORIZATION FOR COVERED ACTIVITIES AND TERM OF PERMIT ................. 197
7.1 Information on IID’s Overhead Power Line “N50” Circuit Relocation
in the Thousand Palms Conservation Area ................................................................................... 197
8.0 MSHCP RESERVE SYSTEM MANAGEMENT & MONITORING PROGRAM ............................ 199
8.1 Background Information on Development of Niche Models ........................................................ 199
8.2 Various Approaches to Sampling .................................................................................................. 206
8.2.1 Community Classification Index .................................................................................... 206
8.2.2 Conceptual Framework for Sampling by Species ........................................................... 207
8.2.3 Conceptual Framework for Habitat Monitoring ............................................................. 212
8.3 Background on Monitoring: Aeolian Sand Community ............................................................... 214
GLOSSARY ............................................................................................................................................................. 216
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TABLE OF CONTENTS (cont.)
LIST OF TABLES Page No.
Table A3-1 Workshops Held as Part of Trails Planning Process ......................................................................... 5
Table A3-2 Participants in the Bighorn Sheep and Trails Working Group .......................................................... 6
Table A3-3 Participants in the Scientific Advisory Committee ......................................................................... 10
Table A3-4 Workshops Held as Part of Planning Process ................................................................................. 15
Table A3-5 MSHCP Biological Surveys ............................................................................................................ 89
Table A3-6 Comparison of Historical and Current Distribution of Conserved Natural Communities1............. 97
Table A3-7 Conservation of Species, Initial Alternative 1............................................................................... 112
Table A3-8 Conservation of Natural Communities, Initial Alternative 1 ........................................................ 114
Table A3-9 Conservation of Natural Communities, Initial Alternative 2 ........................................................ 115
Table A3-10 Conservation of Natural Communities, Initial Alternative 2 ........................................................ 118
Table A3-11 Conservation of Species, Initial Alternative 3............................................................................... 119
Table A3-12 Conservation of Natural Communities, Initial Alternative 3 ........................................................ 121
Table A3-13 Species Not Proposed for Coverage under the Plan ...................................................................... 126
Table A3-14 Natural Communities Not Included in the Plan ............................................................................ 133
Table A4-1 Identification of Conservation Objectives That Cover 100% of Other
Conserved Habitat and Broadly Distributed Natural Communities in the Conservation Areas .... 153
Table A4-2 Acres Covered by Other Conservation Objectives Upper Mission Creek/
Big Morongo Canyon Conservation Area ..................................................................................... 154
Table A4-3 Analysis of Certain Conserved Natural Communities Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives East Indio Hills Conservation Area ...................................................... 154
Table A4-4 Analysis of Certain Conserved Natural Communities Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives Joshua Tree National Park Conservation Area ..................................... 155
Table A4-5a Analysis of Other Conserved Habitat Covered by Other Conservation Objectives
Dos Palmas Conservation Area ..................................................................................................... 155
Table A4-5b Analysis of Certain Conserved Natural Communities Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives Dos Palmas Conservation Area............................................................. 156
Table A4-6a Analysis of Other Conserved Habitat for Covered Species Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives Coachella Valley Stormwater Channel and
Delta Conservation Area ............................................................................................................... 157
Table A4-6b Analysis of Certain Conserved Natural Communities Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives - Coachella Valley Stormwater Channel and
Delta Conservation Area ............................................................................................................... 157
Table A4-7a Analysis of Other Conserved Habitat for Covered Species Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Conservation Area .................. 158
Table A4-7b Analysis of Certain Conserved Natural Communities Covered by Other
Conservation Objectives Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Conservation Area .................. 159
Table A4-8 Acquisitions and Credit Since 1996 .............................................................................................. 160
Table A5-1 Projected Acquisition Costs in Conservation Areas ...................................................................... 168
Table A5-2 CVCC Administrative Cost Projections ........................................................................................ 169
Table A6-1 Mitigation Matrix for Interchange and Associated Arterials Projects ........................................... 196
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure A8-1 Detail of Habitat Analysis with Buffer Areas around a Point ....................................................... 203
Figure A8-2a Sample of Grid Points across the Plan Area ................................................................................ 203
Figure A8-2b Smaller Area of Detail with Grid of Points for Modeling ............................................................. 204
Figure A8-3 Predictive Occurrence Map for Riparian Bird Species ................................................................. 205
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Purpose of Appendix I
The purpose of this appendix is to provide documentation and/or elaboration of information
presented in the MSHCP Plan document. For the reader’s convenience, the content of the
appendix follows the same number system as the Plan. Thus, appendix items referenced in
Section 1 of the Plan are found in Section 1 of the appendix, and so on.
Data in this appendix are circa 2003 and have not been updated as part of the Recirculated
Plan. This appendix provides background information for certain Plan discussions, but the
Recirculated Plan should be relied upon for quantitative information.
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1.0 Background, Purpose, Scope,
Process, and Regulatory Context
Section 1 of the Plan document describes the background, purpose, scope, and planning process
of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community
Conservation Plan (Plan).
1.1 Public Meetings Held
Development of the Plan has been discussed at a variety of public meetings since 1995. These
include Project Advisory Group meetings, CVAG Energy and Environment Committee
meetings, CVAG Technical Advisory Committee meetings, CVAG Executive Committee
meetings, public forums, Scoping meetings for the EIR/EIS, presentations to individual
jurisdictions and entities at public meetings, and public meetings related to trails planning. The
Plan, at its various stages of preparation, was discussed at the meetings listed below.
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Project Advisory Group
1997
11-12-97
1998
1-21-98
2-25-98
3-18-98
4-29-98
5-27-98
6-24-98
7-29-98
9-03-98
9-30-98
10-30-98
1999
2-04-99
3-04-99
4-01-99
5-06-99
6-24-99
8-19-99
9-23-99
11-22-99
12-16-99
2000
1-27-00
2-24-00
5-25-00
6-22-00
8-17-00
10-26-00
2001
1-25-01
2-22-01
3-22-01
4-26-01
5-24-01
6-28-01
7-26-01
9-27-01
10-25-01
12-06-01
2002
1-24-02
2-28-02
3-28-02
4-25-02
5-23-02
6-27-02
7-08-02
7-25-02
9-26-02
10-24-02
2003
1-23-03
2-27-03
3-27-03
4-24-03
5-22-03
6-26-03
7-24-03
CVAG Energy and
Environment Committee
Presentations
1997
12-11-97
1998
2-12-98
3-12-98
5-14-98
7-16-98
9-10-98
11-19-98
12-10-98
1999
1-14-99
3-11-99
9-9-99
2000
1-11-00
1-20-00
2-10-00
3-23-00
5-11-00
6-8-00
7-13-00
9-14-00
11-9-00
12-14-00
2001
1-11-01
2-8-01
3-8-01
4-12-01
6-10-01
2002
3-14-02
9-12-02
2003
1-7-03
7-10-03
CVAG Technical
Advisory Committee
1998
5-8-98
1999
1-8-99
3-12-99
4-9-99
9-10-99
11-12-99
12-3-99
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2000
1-14-00
1-11-00
4-14-00
5-12-00
6-9-00
7-21-00
10-13-00
11-17-00
12-8-00
2001
3-9-01
4-13-01
5-11-01
6-8-01
9-14-01
2002
2-8-02
5-10-02
6-14-02
9-13-02
2003
1-10-03
4-11-03
6-13-03
7-11-03
CVAG Executive Committee Presentations
1998
9-28-98
10-26-98
1999
1-25-99
9-27-99
12-6-99
2000
1-31-00
2-28-00
4-24-00
6-26-00
7-31-00
9-25-00
10-30-00
12-04-00
2001
3-26-01
4-40-01
9-24-01
2002
2-25-02
7-29-02
9-30-02
1-27-03
2003
2-24-03
6-30-03
EIR/EIS Public Scoping Meetings
7-10-2000 Cathedral City Hall
7-12-2000 La Quinta City Hall
Other Public Meetings
2-20-01 Desert Hot Springs City Council
8-8-01 County of Riverside Planning
Commission
9-7-01 BLM Desert Advisory Group
9-26-01 Cathedral City Council
12-01 Riverside County General Plan
Advisory Committee
12-01 Santa Rosa San Jacinto National
Monument Advisory Committee
4-01-02 Desert Hot Springs City Council
10-10-01 Riverside County Planning
Commission
1-16-03 California Resources Agency
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Table A3-1: Workshops Held as Part of Trails Planning Process
Public Meetings/Workshops
Date
Trails, Bighorn Sheep and You, Session I
Living Desert
January 16, 1997
Trails, Bighorn Sheep & You, Session II
Living Desert
June 24, 1999
An Informational Forum: Trails and Bighorn Sheep
Palm Springs City Hall
October 26, 1999
Public Scoping Meeting, Notice of Preparation
Cathedral City Hall
July 11, 2000
Trails and Bighorn Sheep
Working Group Meetings
Date
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group August 19, 1999
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group September 30, 1999
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group November 4, 1999
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group November 23, 1999
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group December 16, 1999
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group January 13, 2000
Working Group - New /Perimeter Trails Subcommittee January 18, 2000
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group February 10, 2000
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group March 9, 2000
Working Group - New/Perimeter Trails Subcommittee March 30, 2000
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group March 30, 2000
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group April 20, 2000
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group October 5, 2000
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group July 19, 2001
Working Group - New/Perimeter Trails Subcommittee July 25, 2001
Trails & Bighorn Sheep Working Group November 8, 2001
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The following is a list of experts and participants in the working group and public meetings.
Table A3-2: Participants in the Bighorn Sheep and Trails Working Group
Name
Title
Affiliation
Katie Barrows
Working Group
Co-Leader,
Associate Director
Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy
Jim Foote
Working Group
Co-Leader,
Recreation Specialist
Bureau of Land Management –
Palm Springs
Fred Baker
Planning Department
City of La Quinta
Ray Barmore
Coachella Valley Trails Council
Eric Baecht, Ken Church
Coachella Valley Hiking Club
Tom Burks, Nguyen T. Quynh
Van
Nellie Coffman School Bicycle Club;
Desert Bicycle Club
Paul Campbell
Coachella Valley Trails Council
Kim Clinton
Planning Department
City of Rancho Mirage
Joe Cook
Attendee
Personal use of mountains
John Criste
Terra Nova Planning and Research, Inc.
Melissa Davis
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
David Dawson
City of Palm Springs
Phil Drell
Planning Director
City of Palm Desert
Doug Evans
Planning Director
City of Palm Springs
Diane Freeman
Wildlife Biologist
U.S. Forest Service - Idyllwild
Curtis Galvez
Bureau of Land Management
Carol Gans
Equestrian/Desert Riders
Danella George
Associate Field Manager
Bureau of Land Management –
Palm Springs
Wayne Hancock
Building Industry Association – Desert
Chapter; KSL Development Corp.
Tom Harney
Member
Riverside County Trails Committee
Jerry Herman
Community
Development Director
City of La Quinta
Bill Hillman
Equestrian/Desert Riders
Michael Kellner
Agua Caliente Band of
Cahuilla Indians
Jim Kenna
Field Manager
Bureau of Land Management –
Palm Springs
Ed Kibbey
Executive Director
Building Industry Association –
Desert Chapter
Cynthia Kinser
Planning Director
City of Cathedral City
Bob Leo, Jodi Madigan,
Tim Jones
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Morgan Levine
Ecotourism/Desert Adventures
Paul Maag
President
Coachella Valley Cycling Association
Matt McDonald
Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service –
Carlsbad
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Table A3-2: Participants in the Bighorn Sheep and Trails Working Group
Name
Title
Affiliation
Steve Nagle
Director of Environ-
mental Resources
Coachella Valley Association of
Governments
Dan Nove
Riverside County Park and Open
Space District
Bruce Poynter
Ecotourism/Desert Adventures
Doug Pumphrey
District Ranger
U.S. Forest Service - Idyllwild
Joel Schultz
Wildlife Biologist
Bureau of Land Management
Joan Taylor
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club
Jeff Winklepleck
Parks Director
City of Palm Desert
Gavin Wright
Wildlife Biologist
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs
Michael Young
President
Coachella Valley Hiking Club
Dr. Tim Vail
Attendee
Interested in wildlife and trails
Wildlife Agency Biologists
Kevin Barry Brennan
Wildlife Biologist
California Department of Fish and Game
Ken Corey
Desert Branch Chief
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Scott McCarthy
Wildlife Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
INVITED EXPERTS PRESENT AT OCTOBER 26, 1999 WORKSHOP
Dr. Walter Boyce
Faculty member
Department of Veterinary Pathology,
Microbiology, and Immunology at
University of California, Davis
Tom Davis
Director of Planning
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Jim DeForge
Executive Director
Bighorn Institute
Mark Jorgensen
Resource Ecologist
California State Parks Anza Borrego
Desert State Park and Mt. San Jacinto State
Wilderness
Ray Lee
Wildlife Biologist
Arizona Department of Game and Fish
Stacey Ostermann
Research Biologist
Bighorn Institute
Esther Rubin
PhD candidate
University of California, Davis
Oliver Ryder
Kleberg Chair in Genetics
Center for Reproduction of Endangered
Species, San Diego Zoo
Steve Torres
Bighorn Sheep and
Mountain Lion Program
Coordinator
California Department of Fish and Game
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2.0 Plan Area Profile
There is no information in this Appendix relevant to Section 2 of the Plan.
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3.0 Plan Development
This section of the Plan document describes the development of the Plan, including the
conservation planning methodology, the species and natural communities addressed in the Plan,
the mapping process used to identify areas of high conservation value, the review by a group of
independent scientists, and the alternatives considered. The resulting conservation plan is
described in Section 4 of the Plan document.
3.1 Composition and Role of the Scientific
Advisory Committee (SAC)
As noted in Section 3.1.1 of the Plan, the development of this Plan placed major emphasis on the
integration of defensible science throughout all phases of the planning process. Indeed,
recommendations on how to improve the HCP process by various reviewers focus on
incorporating state-of-the-art, independent biological expertise (Thomas 2001, Kareiva et al.
1999; Defenders of Wildlife 1998; Anderson and Yaffee 1998). Biological expertise was
incorporated in this Plan primarily through the establishment of a Scientific Advisory Committee
(SAC) and through continuous liaison with knowledgeable experts. The SAC was established as
a subcommittee to the Project Advisory Group (PAG) to provide biological and ecological
oversight in the development of the conservation plan. After completion of the Scoping Study
and initiation of the formal HCP/NCCP process, the SAC continued as an integral part of Plan
development.
The SAC is composed of local biologists with knowledge of the target species and ecological
systems within the Plan Area. In particular, biologists from the Center for Natural Lands
Management and the University of California Natural Reserve System attended virtually every
meeting and effectively functioned as the core of the SAC. In addition, agency biologists from
BLM, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Coachella Valley Water District,
and one non-biologist who provided liaison with the PAG, participated in the SAC. USFWS and
CDFG biologists also attended most SAC meetings. The SAC met on an approximately monthly
basis. A list of the core members of the SAC and all others who participated at some time in
SAC meetings is given in Table A3-3.
The SAC was charged with developing a recommendation for a biologically based conservation
plan for the protection of the Covered Species and conserved natural communities in the Plan.
The SAC worked in collaboration with staff from the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy,
as the consultant drafting the Plan, the agency biologists, and other meeting participants. The
SAC ultimately reviewed all aspects of the biological elements of the Plan, but the focus of their
efforts was on the following tasks:
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1. Compilation of data on all species under consideration for coverage in the Plan.
2. Identification and mapping of natural communities within the Plan Area. In particular, the
core SAC members assisted in delineation of sand dune/sand field types.
3. Identification and mapping of ecosystem processes, including sand transport systems.
4. Development and review of species distribution map methodology. Review all species
distribution maps (including numerous iterations since initial maps).
5. Assist in design of Site Identification methodology. Once the initial Site Identification
Process was established, the SAC reviewed and evaluated iterations of the analysis.
6. Definition and development of key concepts including Core Habitat, corridors and
linkages. Consistent with their area of expertise, SAC members assisted with the mapping
of Core Habitat for particular species.
7. Development of Reserve Design Criteria.
8. Review and evaluation of iterations of proposed conservation alternatives, using Reserve
Design Criteria.
9. Development of and justification for Conservation Alternative 2.
10. Development of and justification for the Preferred Alternative, prior to review by wildlife
agencies and jurisdictions.
Table A3-3: Participants in the Scientific Advisory Committee
Name
Title
Affiliation
CORE SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Cameron Barrows
Regional Director
Center for Natural
Lands Management
Mark Fisher
Biologist
University of California, Deep
Canyon Desert Research Center
Al Muth
Director
University of California, Deep
Canyon Desert Research Center
AGENCY BIOLOGISTS
Rob Bundy
(1998-1999)
Refuge Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
CV National Wildlife Refuge
Roland DeGouvenain
(1996-1997)
Botanist
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
Diane Freeman
(1996 to 12/00)
Wildlife Biologist
U.S. Forest Service
Idyllwild Ranger District
Patricia Locke-Dawson
(1997)
Wildlife Biologist
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
Rachelle Huddleston -
Lorton
(1/01 to 7/03)
Wildlife Biologist
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
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Table A3-3: Participants in the Scientific Advisory Committee
Name
Title
Affiliation
Don Mitchell
(6/00 to 1/03)
Biologist
Coachella Valley
Water District
Anne Poopatanapong
(As of 1/01)
Wildlife Biologist
U.S. Forest Service
Idyllwild Ranger District
Rich Thiery
(Prior to 12/99)
Biologist
Coachella Valley
Water District
Gavin Wright
(through 2000)
Wildlife Biologist
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
REGULATORY WILDLIFE AGENCY STAFF
Sherry Barrett
Assistant Field
Supervisor
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad Field Office
Caitlin Bean
Staff Environmental
Scientist
California Department
of Fish and Game
Glenn Black
Senior Environmental
Scientist
California Department
of Fish & Game
Marina Brand
Environmental
Specialist
California Department
of Fish & Game
Kevin Barry Brennan
Associate Biologist
California Department
of Fish & Game
Ken Corey
Desert Branch Chief
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad Field Office
Jim Dice
(thru 12/00)
Botanist
California Department
of Fish and Game
Brenda Johnson
Staff Environmental
Scientist
California Department
of Fish and Game
Eddy Konno
Associate Biologist
California Department
of Fish and Game
Debbie McAller
(prior to 8/00)
Botanist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad Field Office
Brenda McMillan
(1997 only)
Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad Field Office
Kim Nicol
Senior Environmental
Scientist
California Department
of Fish and Game
Alan Pickard
Deputy Regional
Manager
(Environmental Program
Manager)
California Department
of Fish and Game
Ron Rempel
Deputy Director, Habitat
Conservation
California Department
of Fish and Game
Pete Sorensen
Division Chief
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad Field Office
Dee Sudduth
Deputy Regional
Manager
California Department
of Fish and Game
PLAN PREPARATION TEAM
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Table A3-3: Participants in the Scientific Advisory Committee
Name
Title
Affiliation
Katie Barrows
Associate Director
Coachella Valley
Mountains Conservancy
John Criste
EIR/EIS Consultant
Terra Nova Planning
Bill Havert
Executive Director
Coachella Valley
Mountains Conservancy
Ingrid Johnson
GIS Specialist
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
Larry LaPre
Biological Consultant
AMEC Environmental
Jim Sullivan
(Steve Nagle before 12/00)
Dir. of Environmental
Resources
Coachella Valley Association
of Governments
Richard Tull
GIS
Coachella Valley Association
of Governments
Brian Vanko, Nathan
Mendenhall, Nick Peihl
GIS
Coachella Valley Association
of Governments
OTHER OCCASIONAL PARTICIPANTS IN SAC MEETINGS & WORKSHOPS
Gillian Bowser
(1997-1998)
Biologist
Joshua Tree National Park
Dick Crowe
Project Director
BLM – Northern & Eastern Colorado
Desert Plan
Doug Evans
(prior to 2000)
Planning Director
City of Palm Springs
Kevin Hansen
(prior to 12/00)
Dos Palmas
Preserve Manager
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
Cheryl Hickam
(1996 to 1997)
GIS Specialist
BLM California Desert District
Office
Henry McCutcheon
Resources Chief
Joshua Tree National Park
Kevin O’Connor
Biologist
California Dept. of Fish and Game
Nanette Pratini
GIS Specialist
University of California, Riverside
& BLM Desert District Office
Dr. Laszlo J. Szijj
Professor of
Biological Sciences
Cal Poly University – Pomona
(for Torres Martinez Indians)
Joan Taylor
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club
San Gorgonio Chapter
Genea Warner
Project Assistant
BLM – Northern & Eastern Colorado
Desert Plan
BIOLOGISTS CONSULTED DURING PROCESS
Greg Ballmer
Entomologist
Dept. of Entomology
University of California, Riverside
Betsy Bolster
Biologist Bats
California Department of
Fish & Game
Jim Cornett
Natural Science Curator
Palm Springs Desert Museum
Palm Springs, CA
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Table A3-3: Participants in the Scientific Advisory Committee
Name
Title
Affiliation
Jim DeForge
Executive Director
Bighorn Institute
Palm Desert, CA
Shana Dodd
Biological Consultant
- PS Pocket Mouse
S.C. Dodd Biological Consulting
San Diego, CA
Mark Dodero
Biological Consultant
- PS Ground Squirrel
RECON
San Diego, CA
Dave Hawks
Biological Consultant
- invertebrates
Hawks Biological Consulting
George Helmkamp
Amateur Botanist
Morongo Valley, California
Bob James
Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad, CA
Mark Jorgensen
Biologist
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Borrego Springs, CA
Sharon Keeney
Biologist
- Desert Pupfish
California Dept. of Fish & Game
Indio, CA
Ed LaRue
Biological Consultant
BLM – Northeastern
Mojave Desert Plan
Jeff Lovich
Biologist
Biological Resources Division
U.S. Geological Service
Chet McGaugh
Biological Consultant
- Birds
Tierra Madre Consultants
Riverside, CA
Robert McKernan
Curator of Biology
Dept. of Biology
San Bernardino County Museum
Steve Myers
Biological Consultant
- Birds
Tierra Madre Consultants
Riverside, CA
Will Miller
Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Carlsbad, CA
Stacey Ostermann
Biologist
Bighorn Institute
Palm Desert, CA
Nanette Pratini
GIS Specialist
Bureau of Land Management
Riverside, CA
Gordon Pratt
Entomologist
Dept. of Entomologist
University of California, Riverside
Esther Rubin
Researcher
- Bighorn Sheep
University of California, Davis
Andrew Sanders
Botanist
Herbarium Curator
Herbarium
University of California, Riverside
Marcus Speigelberg
Biological Consultant
(now with CNLM)
RECON
San Diego, CA
INVITED EXPERTS CONSULTED DURING PROCESS
Nick Lancaster
Research Professor
Desert Research Institute
Reno, NV
Reed Noss
Ecologist and
Conservation Biologist
Conservation Biology Institute
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Table A3-3: Participants in the Scientific Advisory Committee
Name
Title
Affiliation
Howard Snell
Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
University of New Mexico
Michael Soule
Conservation Biologist
C. Richard Tracy
Professor of Biology
and Director
Biological Resources Research Ctr.
University of Nevada, Reno
John Rotenberry
Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
University of California, Riverside
John Willoughby
State Botanist
Bureau of Land Management
In addition to local experts and agency biologists who regularly attended SAC meetings, other
scientific experts were consulted at various stages during the Plan development process. Due to
the commitment of time necessary to participate regularly in SAC meetings, some of the
individuals with expertise on a given species or taxonomic group were not available on an
ongoing basis. Efforts to involve these individuals occurred at workshops convened by the SAC
throughout the Plan development process. Staff from the Coachella Valley Mountains
Conservancy made visits to selected experts at various times throughout the Plan preparation
process as well.
In 2000 a team of scientists was engaged to prepare a hydrology report focusing on the sand
source/sand transport system for two areas: 1) the Whitewater Floodplain Preserve, and 2) the
Willow Hole/Edom Hill and Flat Top Mountain areas. A copy of the resulting report, Long-term
Sand Supply to Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma inornata) Habitat in the Northern
Coachella Valley, California (United States Geological Survey, 2002), is available for review at
CVAG.
During the planning process, a number of workshops were convened to bring in experts to
provide review and recommendations for various elements of the conservation plan. A list of
workshops held is given in Table A3-4.
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Table A3-4: Workshops Held as Part of Planning Process
Workshop Title
Date
Reserve Design and Connectivity Criteria Workshop
November 14-15, 1996
Species Distribution and Conservation Needs Workshop
September 23-25, 30, 1997
Gap Analysis and Reserve Design Workshop
March 25-27, 1998
Reserve Design and Conservation Planning Workshop
April 21-22, 1998
Essential Habitat Boundary for Peninsular bighorn sheep
March 2, 2000
Ecological Monitoring and Adaptive Management Workshop
November 28, 2000
Early in the process, the SAC convened a Reserve Design and Connectivity Criteria Workshop
to obtain input from three noted conservation biologists: Reed Noss, Michael Soule, and C.
Richard Tracy. This workshop was focused on receiving input and direction from these
conservation biologists with respect to the recommended approaches to reserve design, target
species selection and habitat modeling, and a wide range of topics related to HCP development.
In September 1997, the SAC invited biologists with expertise on a given species or taxonomic
group to provide input on the status and distribution of proposed target species; these experts
reviewed known location maps and very preliminary species distribution maps. This workshop
was very useful in gathering available information on the distribution of proposed target species.
In April 1998, the SAC scheduled another workshop, the Reserve Design and Conservation
Planning Workshop, with the three conservation biologists listed above. Prior to this workshop,
the SAC met in late March of 1998 to review the results of the Gap Analysis and the preliminary
Site Selection and Reserve Design analyses. This workshop, which primarily involved SAC
members, wildlife agency biologists, and other interested individuals, provided a review of the
reserve design process that would be presented to the conservation biologists in April.
At the April 1998 workshop, a preliminary presentation of the site selection and reserve design
program was made. The results of the first run of the quantitative site selection algorithm were
presented to the conservation biologists and other workshop participants. The objectives of this
workshop were to obtain peer review and input from conservation biologists on the conservation
planning methodology, including species habitat modeling, gap analysis, site selection and
evaluation, and related reserve design issues. The conservation biologists provided significant
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input regarding additional data and analyses that would enhance the conservation planning
methodology, selection, and design of the proposed reserves.
In March 2000, the CVMC invited city/county planning directors, agency biologists, landowners,
and other interested persons to provide input on a map delineating the essential habitat boundary
for the Peninsular bighorn sheep. The essential habitat line defines the area within which the
recovery plan for bighorn sheep will
In November 2000, the SAC invited individuals with expertise in biological monitoring to an
Ecological Monitoring and Adaptive Management Workshop. These experts provided important
input and recommendations prior to the development of a Draft Ecological Monitoring and
Adaptive Management Plan.
The core members of the SAC demonstrated an exceptional level of commitment to the planning
process, devoting their time outside of SAC meetings to make site visits to various locations
during the reserve design process, providing assistance in the identification and delineation of
species’ habitat parameters, ecosystem processes, and other significant features in the GIS
mapping effort, and making themselves available to review map products and draft documents
whenever necessary. In addition, other scientists listed above, including workshop participants
and individuals with particular species expertise, graciously made themselves available
whenever their input was requested.
3.2 Conservation Planning Methodology
3.2.1 Best Available Science Standard
From the outset, a goal was established to base the preparation of this Plan on a strong
foundation of scientific data and ecological principles. The importance of establishing a baseline
of scientifically credible data has been emphasized in several recent reviews of the HCP process
(Noss et al. 1997, Hood 1998, Harding et al. 2001). The USFWS addresses the need for use of
the “best available” science in their policy documents on HCP preparation, including the Habitat
Conservation Planning Handbook (USFWS and NMFS 1996). This handbook calls for the
availability of up-to-date biological information on the species being considered within the Plan
Area. It also recognizes, however, that for habitat-based HCPs the protection of habitat types for
a particular species through an HCP and associated mitigation program may obviate the need for
additional distribution studies. The California Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP)
guidelines state as a criterion: "The plan provides a conservation strategy that is based on
recognized principles of conservation biology, as well as the best available scientific information
about species and habitats."
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In the initial phases of this Plan’s development efforts were focused on gathering all available
information on the Covered species and conserved natural communities. The effort to obtain and
review up-to-date biological information was ongoing throughout the preparation of the Plan.
The SAC and the Planning Team used the best available scientific data in developing a
recommended conservation plan. There were, however, some constraints that had to be
acknowledged and dealt with. One constraint was the ability to conduct biological surveys in all
desired areas. Two factors combined to pose limits: available funding and lack of permission
from some landowners to conduct surveys on their property. Within those limits, surveys were
conducted for species for which the existing data were believed by the SAC to be inadequate.
Surveys for each of these species were conducted in locations where biologists with expertise in
the species believed the habitat was suitable. The locations were also selected to reflect the likely
limits of distribution of the species in the Plan Area. A list of these field surveys is given in
Section 3.4 of this appendix. An additional constraint was the fact that appropriate conditions for
annual plant species occur only in years with appropriate amount and timing of rainfall. In most
years there is minimal or no germination of the annual plant species to be covered in the Plan.
Constraints existed for the analytical process as well. Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) did
not exist, and the available data would not support preparation of PVAs for the species being
covered. Nor did the Plan preparers have the technical expertise or budget to use sophisticated
GIS programs or models to assess the biological resource value of each unit of land, regardless
of scale, in the Plan Area. As noted below, a coarse filter approach was employed, with emphasis
on protecting the Core Habitat areas for target species, the processes that sustain them, and
protecting linkages to maintain connectivity. The Plan also provides for natural community
conservation.
Notwithstanding the limits on available data and analytical methods, the Plan preparers believe
that the expertise of the SAC and other biologists who contributed information, combined with
the conservation focus described in the preceding paragraph, have generated a functional Plan
that will conserve the Covered Species and conserved natural communities in the Plan. In
providing a thorough critique of the Plan, the Independent Science Advisors' Review of the Plan,
dated April 13, 2001 (Noss et al. 2001), did "commend the Scientific Advisory Committee
(SAC) and others who contributed to the Draft Plan for producing what is sure to be one of the
most scientifically defensible and thorough HCPs or NCCPs ever developed.” (See Section 3.3
in this appendix for a description of the Independent Science Advisors and their report.)
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3.2.2 Planning Objectives and Key Concepts
As noted by Beatley (1994) the HCP process generally involves a central strategy of identifying
and protecting certain high value habitat areas. Within this central strategy, greater emphasis has
been placed on planning beyond the single-species level to concentrate on ecosystem-based
planning (Noss et al. 1997; O’Connell 1997; Margules and Pressey 2000; The Nature
Conservancy 2000). Within the framework of HCP and NCCP guidelines, this Plan was designed
to emphasize ecosystem-level conservation. Indeed, the ecosystems of the Coachella Valley,
including the dynamic sand dunes on the valley floor, essentially required that the participants in
this Plan look beyond protection of the habitat for a given suite of species. The character of these
dynamic ecosystems required that ecosystem processes, including large-scale disturbance events
including flooding and sand transport, be incorporated into the conservation plan. As described
below, the Planning Team incorporated planning at various levels of biological organization,
using both a coarse and a fine filter approach, and employing certain key concepts described
below.
3.2.2.1 Planning at Species, Community, and Ecosystem Levels
The multiple species concept embraces the need to go beyond the habitat needs of a single
species to look at other levels of biological organization at which targets for conservation could
occur. In their handbook on ecoregional conservation planning, the Nature Conservancy (2000)
emphasizes the importance of planning at multiple spatial scales and multiple levels of biological
organization. This Plan incorporates these three levels of biological organization: species,
terrestrial ecological communities, and ecological systems. The identification of these levels is
central to the coarse filter approach discussed below. For this conservation plan, the term natural
communities is used to describe terrestrial ecological communities; these natural communities
are named based on plant community types defined at the “plant association level” (Nature
Conservancy 2000, Sawyer and Keeler-Wolf 1995). The ecological systems, or landscape level,
element of this plan is perhaps its most significant feature, in that this is the level at which
ecosystem processes are incorporated. The Planning Team identified ecological system elements
including both biotic (such as individual species life history characteristics) and abiotic
(particularly sand source/sand transport and hydrological processes) components as targets for
conservation. This emphasis on natural community and ecosystem-level planning is consistent
with the theoretical basis for the NCCP program (Noss et al. 1997), and the NCCP element of
this Plan. These levels of biological organization are also used in the Monitoring and Adaptive
Management Plan, in which three levels of monitoring are addressed including species-specific,
habitat-natural community, and landscape or ecosystem.
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3.2.2.2 Coarse Filter and Fine Filter Approach
The Nature Conservancy developed the concept of coarse and fine filters in conservation
planning (Noss 1987; Noss and Cooperrider 1994) in response to the sometimes inefficient and
ineffective species-by-species approach (Noss et al. 1997). The “coarse-fine filter strategy” is
described as a working hypothesis that assumes conservation of multiple, viable examples of all
coarse-filter targets (communities and ecological systems) will also conserve the majority of
species (The Nature Conservancy 2000). To work as coarse filters, ecological communities and
ecosystems must be conserved as part of dynamic, intact landscapes, with some level of
connectivity between them, and be represented across environmental gradients to account for
ecological and genetic variability. The fine filter approach focuses on those species, such as very
rare, extremely localized, or narrowly endemic species, that cannot be reliably conserved with
the coarse filter approach (The Nature Conservancy 2000). The SAC adopted this strategy early
in the process as part of a general approach for conservation planning. The adoption of this
strategy was based on several considerations, notably that the coarse filter would better
incorporate the ecological processes and landscape level features that are significant to the target
species, and that limitations on data would make it difficult to accomplish fine filter planning for
many of the species. The Planning Team recognized that conserving adequate portions of natural
communities, including the ecological and physical processes that sustain them, would reduce
the need for detailed studies and population viability analyses for individual species.
Some examples of species requiring a fine filter approach include the Palm Springs pocket
mouse, Coachella Valley round-tailed ground squirrel, and triple-ribbed milkvetch. Species for
which the coarse filter approach is appropriate include the riparian birds, gray vireo, burrowing
owl, Coachella Valley Jerusalem cricket, and Le Conte’s thrasher.
3.2.2.3 Key Concepts
The process of designating areas of high biological value that were incorporated into the reserve
design process, and ultimately into the conservation plan, was based on a number of key
concepts identified by the SAC. These key concepts were used to identify and to evaluate
potential conservation areas.
The SAC’s intention was to preserve multiple Core Habitat areas for each species. Each Core
Habitat area was assessed for viability (adequate size, intact natural processes, appropriate
corridors) to the extent possible. For those species within the aeolian sand system each site had a
discrete sand source. Having multiple, discrete sites provided assurance that catastrophic
climatic or environmental events would be unlikely to decimate all populations of target species.
Within the multiple-site requirement the SAC also attempted to include the current range of
climatic and elevation conditions occupied by each species. Conserved areas in both the cooler,
wetter, western end of the Plan Area, and the hotter, drier, central-eastern end of the Plan Area
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were included to provide the range of conditions a given species inhabits. Therefore the
likelihood is increased that some refugia for each of the species will be maintained if climatic
conditions change over time. In this section these key concepts will be defined as they pertain to
the Plan, especially in the Core Habitat selection and assessment process.
Core Habitat. As defined by the SAC, Core Habitat for a given species is a habitat patch or
aggregation of habitat patches that (1) is of sufficient size to support a self-sustaining population
of that species, (2) is not fragmented in a way to cause separation into isolated populations, (3)
has functional Essential Ecological Processes, and (4) has effective Biological Corridors and/or
Linkages to other habitats, where feasible, to allow gene flow among populations and to promote
movement of large predators.
Population Viability. Core Habitat must contain enough individuals of a target species to assure
a high probability of long-term survival (viability). It must surpass the minimum (effective)
population size below which extinction is likely in the short term (Soulé and Simberloff 1986).
The scant data available for any of the target species covered in the Plan precluded doing a
Population Viability Analysis (PVA; Gilpin and Soulé 1986) because the lack of solid data to
establish estimating parameters for the PVA causes uncertainty in extinction predictions (Taylor
1995). Thus the SAC assessed the criterion of viability in the context of habitat patch size. In
particular, the SAC assessed whether the habitat patch is of sufficient size to maintain a viable
population of the target species. Four factors affect the viability of populations: 1) genetic
factors that, through chance events, affect negatively the ability of a population to adapt to a
changing environment (founder effect, inbreeding depression, random fixation); 2) demographic
factors (e.g., sex ratio, reproductive output, age at sexual maturity); 3) environmental factors,
whether relatively short-term (drought or flood) or long-term (climatic change or changes in
habitat characteristics); and 4) natural catastrophes such as fire. Genetic and demographic factors
are inherent to small populations (Roughgarden 1975; Shaffer 1981, 1985, 1987; Soulé 1980,
1987; Lande and Barrowclough 1987). The SAC attempted to ensure viability by preserving a
sufficiently large population in each Core Habitat area to overcome extinctions caused by chance
genetic or demographic events, and to negate the chance of extinctions caused by environmental
factors or natural catastrophes by creating multiple Core Habitat areas for each target species.
Soulé (1987) proposed that a minimum population size in the low thousands would be needed to
support a viable population of vertebrates for several centuries. Thomas (1990) proposed a target
of a geometric mean of 5,500 individuals. Insufficient data for nearly all target species allowed
calculation of neither geometric mean population sizes nor static population estimates. So the
SAC, using the minimum viable population sizes of Soulé (1987) and Thomas (1990) as a guide,
decided that the habitat must be of sufficient size to contain at least 5,000 to 10,000 individuals
of a target species to satisfy the criterion requiring that Core Habitat be able to support a viable
population for that species. This does not mean that Core Habitat was delineated based on this
population size range but, instead, potential Core Habitat was first delineated on the basis of
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habitat size and shape (low perimeter to area ratio) and secondarily assessed to see if it satisfied
the viability criteria by supporting 5,000 to 10,000 individuals. Estimating population size
involved using the best estimates of experts based on known densities or on short-term trapping
or sighting data. In addition to Core Habitat, some small populations of many target species are
found in habitat that was preserved for other purposes (e.g., sand source areas, Core Habitat for a
different species). Although their ability to persist long term is less certain, these populations
may enhance the genetic variability of nearby Core Habitat areas (Gilpin 1987).
Multiple Core Habitat Areas. Management can never foresee catastrophic events and thus
assure the survival (probability = 1.0) of any population (Shaffer 1990). A single site may be
susceptible to destruction by catastrophic climatic or environmental events (e.g. fire). Protecting
multiple unconnected environments is a way of maximizing the likelihood that some populations
will persist as not all will be affected, or affected equally, by the event (Soulé 1987). Margules
and Pressey (2000) recommend preserving “at least three occurrences of each species.” In light
of this, the SAC identified multiple, discrete Core Habitat areas for each target species, where
practicable. By discrete the SAC implies that the sites are geographically, climatically, or
ecologically distinct. Each Core Habitat area has intact ecological processes with discrete
sources. With the multiple-site requirement the SAC also attempted to include the current range
of climatic and environmental conditions occupied by each species. So to satisfy the population
viability criterion, a Core Habitat area must have a large population size, and there must be three
or more of these Core Habitat areas whenever possible.
Ecosystem Processes. To be considered Core Habitat according to the SAC’s criteria, the habitat
must have intact ecological processes. Information about the habitat requirements of each
species, and the ecological processes that maintain these habitats, was assembled from literature
sources, field studies, and consultation with experts.
Community ecologists focus on the minimum area required for preservation, whereas population
biologists focus on the minimum population size or density required for the long-term survival of
a species. The two are intimately interrelated; to have long-term viability necessitates protecting
a species’ habitat, and to protect habitat requires the ecological processes be intact. To best
protect ecological processes, as much habitat as possible should be protected, as well as non-
habitat areas (for the target species) that directly or indirectly affect that habitat (e.g., watershed
areas or sand source areas). To this end, substantial portions of each natural community are to be
preserved.
A central goal of this Plan is to ensure the protection of important ecological processes that
maintain the natural communities and habitat for target species. Many ecological processes are
relevant in this regard but the Plan placed special significance on protection of sand source/sand
transport systems for the aeolian sand habitats and of hydrological processes that are significant
to many of the natural communities, in particular riparian areas, mesquite hummocks, desert fan
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palm oases, and desert dry wash woodlands. Sand transport systems and hydrological processes
are discussed in greater detail below.
Natural communities ranging in elevation from toe-of-slope up to the upper limit of the bighorn
sheep habitat (approximately 4600 feet) will be protected by the Plan. Habitats above this
elevation are offered high to moderate protection by the Plan as they occur on primarily public
lands. These public land areas, many designated as wilderness, provide the large size and
connectivity required to protect communities at the landscape level. Target species that live in
habitats encompassed by this mosaic of hillside habitats will likewise be protected (e.g. riparian
species: least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, summer tanager, yellow-breasted
chat, and yellow warbler).
Below the hillside habitats protected by the Plan lie the aeolian sand habitats, the natural
communities most endangered by development and other anthropogenic disturbances in the
Coachella Valley. The following natural communities comprise the aeolian sand habitat: active
desert dunes, stabilized and partially stabilized desert dunes, active desert sand fields, ephemeral
desert sand fields, stabilized and partially stabilized desert sand fields, stabilized shielded desert
sand fields, and mesquite hummocks. Those communities categorized as “shielded” have
disrupted ecological processes. The aeolian sand system in the Coachella Valley has been
described by various studies (Turner et al. 1981; The Nature Conservancy 1985; Lancaster et al.
1993; Meek and Wasklewicz 1993; Wasklewicz and Meek 1995; Barrows 1996, USGS 2002).
Sand Source and Sand Transport Processes. The abiotic ecological processes that drive the
aeolian sand habitat extend far beyond the actual habitat and require both a sand source and
strong prevailing winds. The source for the blowsand is the erosion of the mountains and hills
that surround the valley. Weathering frees sediment and washes it downstream, eventually
intersecting an area where fluvial dispersal is replaced by aeolian dispersal. The sediment that
arrives on the valley floor contains particle sizes ranging from fine silts and clay through sands
and gravels to cobbles and large rocks. High winds sort the sediment; transportability of the
differently sized particles is revealed as a positive correlation between wind energy and particle
mass. Fine soils like silt and clay are carried aloft and, remaining suspended, are carried away
from the region. Sand-sized particles are dispersed downwind during periods of strong winds.
Gravels, cobbles, and rocks remain in the sorting area. The San Gorgonio Pass constricts the
dominant northwest winds, increasing wind velocity (energy) through the valley and causing the
strong, characteristic winds in the vicinity of the pass. Downwind (east and southeast) from the
pass, the wind velocities lessen. This means that the stronger winds nearer the pass can carry
larger, heavier particles than can winds farther down valley, and larger particles are deposited at
the point where the wind no longer has sufficient energy to move them. Thus, average sand
particle size decreases with increasing distance from the pass. Downwind from a source area is a
transport corridor in which, over the long-term, the wind regime can transport more sand than is
normally available to it. Farther downwind, the sand-carrying capability of the wind decreases,
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and more sand is available than can be transported, resulting in a net accumulation of sand in the
depositional area. Periodic influx of new sand in the depositional area maintains an unstable
surface.
Any portion of this aeolian sand system can be interrupted. The fluvial portion can be
interrupted by flood control structures that impound or divert sediment-laden floodwaters.
Barriers in the sand transport corridor can impound sand and block the wind. A barrier creates a
leeward wind shadow that extends a distance of roughly ten times the height of the barrier before
wind velocities at ground level approach the magnitude of those on the windward side of the
barrier. This leads to a gradual depletion of leeward sand, eventually stabilizing the surface.
The blowsand regions in the valley are supplied by myriad sources. The following summary of
the aeolian sand habitats, categorized by Conservation Area, describes their primary sand sources
and sand transport routes. The Preferred Alternative Conservation Area containing each is
named parenthetically, where applicable.
Snow Creek/Windy Point Conservation Area. This is the westernmost extreme of aeolian
habitat in the Coachella Valley. Coastal influence makes this area cooler and wetter than
other blowsand habitat, and its proximity to the pass gives it higher velocity winds. The
primary sand sources are the San Gorgonio River to the west and the Whitewater River at
its confluence with the San Gorgonio River near, Windy Point. Both rivers have their
origin in the San Bernardino Mountains; lesser sources occur in smaller canyons in both
the San Bernardino and the San Jacinto ranges. Sand that reaches the riverbed from these
sources is blown to adjacent habitat by the predominantly west winds, or is carried
downstream by floods to supply other habitat areas.
Whitewater Floodplain Conservation Area. This transport and deposition area is supplied
by sediment-laden floodwaters in the Whitewater River that breach the “sugar dikes” at
the Coachella Valley Water District settling ponds, just east of Windy Point. These sugar
dikes are designed to shunt small flows into the settling ponds, but break away in high
volume floods > 500 c.f.s. (Don Mitchell, Coachella Valley Water District, pers. comm.).
Floods deposit their sediment load east of the settling ponds, where sand is then
transported east onto the Whitewater Floodplain Preserve by the prevailing west winds.
In the western portion the wind can transport more sand than is available to it in most
years, resulting in sand accumulating only on the lee side of shrubs (accretion dunes or
hummocks). To the east, the wind velocity decreases slightly, and these sand accretions
periodically coalesce into sand fields (ephemeral sand fields). A secondary sand source
for this area is Mission Creek, which transports sediment fluvially from the eastern San
Bernardino Mountains. Mission Creek will be protected by the Plan as a sand transport
system. The 300-foot total width will allow channel widening, if necessary, albeit with
the stipulations that a soft bottom is retained and no debris basins or settling ponds are
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built. The primary sand transport system, the Whitewater River channel, will be protected
as a fluvial sand source from the Snow Creek/Windy Point Conservation Area to where
the river channel crosses Indian Avenue on the western edge of the Whitewater
Floodplain Preserve.
The Big Dune. This is the historical terminus for most sand originating from the San
Gorgonio and Whitewater River sand sources. Historically, strong episodic winds from
the west-northwest transported sand across the Whitewater Floodplain then deposited it
where the wind velocity decreased away from the San Gorgonio Pass, forming the large
sand pile that comprises the so-called Big Dune. Presently, the sand transport system is
permanently blocked by development upwind, so the region is undergoing the slow
process of stabilization. The Nature Conservancy (1985, figure II-6) identified it as a
“shielded or stabilized area due primarily to urban development (roads, buildings, canals,
dikes).” In addition to the lack of an intact sand source, the region is highly fragmented
by roads. The largest undeveloped plot that is not divided by two to four-lane roads
contains 273 hectares (674 acres). This area is not included in the Preferred Alternative.
Willow Hole and Edom Hill Conservation Areas. Fault-dammed ground water at the
Banning branch of the San Andreas Fault supplies water to honey mesquites. These
shrubs impound blowsand, forming hummocks and a portion of the mesquite hummock
natural community. The Nature Conservancy (1985) identified three sand source areas
for Willow Hole-Edom Hill. The Morongo Wash source supplies sand from the west,
and the Willow Hole and Long Canyon watersheds drain through the preserve from north
to south. Morongo Creek carries sediment originating in the Little San Bernardino
Mountains in Morongo Canyon. Long Canyon also originates in the Little San
Bernardino Mountains. The Willow Hole watershed originates in the western Indio Hills
and acts to redeposit sand into the Willow Hole area after being carried out by prevailing
winds. Additionally, aerial photographs reveal that the Morongo Wash source is
augmented by sediment from Mission Creek, which has the San Bernardino Mountains as
its source. These sand transport routes, as well as the Willow Hole watershed, are to be
protected by the Plan. Mission Creek and Morongo Wash will include 150 feet on each
side of the midline of each wash; Long Canyon will be protected with a flood control
levee on the west side, along Mountain View Road and without a flood control barrier on
the east side. The entire Willow Hole watershed is contained in a portion of the Indio
Hills that will be protected.
Flat Top Mountain—Stebbins Dune (portion of Willow Hole Conservation Area). This
area immediately south of Willow Hole had historically three major sand sources.
Blowsand that was transported across the northern portion of the Whitewater River
floodplain area (just south of Garnet Hill) continued east over the top of Flat Top
Mountain. It, along with sand from the other sources, formed a veneer over Flat Top
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such that it resembled a large dune (Donald Weaver, pers. comm.), with extensive drift
deposits on the lee side. But in the early 1960s, the Southern Pacific Railroad planted
tamarisk trees to protect their equipment from windblown sand. These trees blocked the
sand transport system from this source (Turner et al. 1981, 1983). The two other sources
are Mission and Morongo Creeks. These two washes provide sand to the area between I-
10 and the Banning branch of the San Andreas Fault, from where prevailing winds
transport it around the north end of Flat Top Mountain, then southwest to Stebbins Dune.
The fluvial transport routes of Mission and Morongo Creeks, as well as the aeolian
transport area south of the fault line, are to be preserved by the Plan.
Thousand Palms Conservation Area. The dunes within the Thousand Palms Preserve are
supplied by two major sources, from Thousand Palms Canyon and from sand-bearing
alluvium in the Indio Hills, west of Thousand Palms Canyon. Donald Weaver, in a short-
term study for The Nature Conservancy (1985), estimated mean annual supply of sand by
the drainages in the Indio Hills and concluded that Thousand Palms Canyon supplies the
majority of sediment to the dunes within the Thousand Palms Preserve. However,
subsequent studies of aerial photos (Lancaster et al. 1993), geochemical composition
(Meek and Wasklewicz 1993; Wasklewicz and Meek 1995), and enhanced satellite
imagery (Cameron Barrows, pers. comm.) have determined that drainages west of
Thousand Palms Canyon, in the Indio Hills, supplied most of the sand that is present
today. These drainages are to be included in the Plan as sand sources, and a proposed
flood control structure is designed to direct sediment-laden floodwaters to a sorting area
directly upwind of the Preserve. The Thousand Palms Canyon sand source remains intact
under the Plan.
East Indio Hills Conservation Area. The sand source and transport systems to the west of
this area (Whitewater River, Mission and Morongo Creeks, Thousand Palms Canyon,
etc.) are blocked by development upwind. This leaves only the sand sources in the
adjacent Indio Hills and the Little San Bernardino Mountains to supply all the sand for
this area (see Independent Science Advisors’ Review, Noss et al. 2001). The viability of
the remaining aeolian sand habitat here is uncertain.
Habitat Fragmentation. Another criterion that must be satisfied for a Covered Species’ habitat
to be considered core is that it must not be fragmented: there can be no impervious barriers to
target animal movement, or to pollinators or seed dispersal agents of target plants. Effective
barriers lead to genetic differentiation among isolated populations, diminish recolonization
ability, and decrease the effective size of the population leading to a decrease in viability (Soulé
1986). Habitat can be fragmented by roads or by unsuitable habitat.
The negative effects of roads on species in adjacent communities have been well documented
(for review, see Trombulak and Frissell 2000). Roads as barriers are species-specific in their
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effectiveness to exclude species; this effectiveness as a barrier is linked to road width and traffic
volume. Even relatively narrow, lightly traveled roads have been demonstrated to be significant
barriers to some arthropods (Mader 1984; Mader et al. 1990; Seibert and Connover 1991), and to
some small rodents (Merriam et al. 1989; Oxley et al. 1974; Swihart and Slade 1984). Isolation
by roadways has led to significant genetic differentiation between the isolated populations (Reh
and Seitz 1990). Oxley et al. (1974) found wide roads to be so effective as barriers to dispersal of
small forest mammals that they are equivalent to a body of water twice as wide. In the Coachella
Valley there are very few paved roads that are only two-lanes wide and even fewer with light
traffic volume. These roads, except perhaps Snow Creek Road, will increase in traffic volume
(and will subsequently be widened) as the human population increases locally. Although there is
no information available concerning the effectiveness of roads as barriers to the target species, it
is the SAC’s opinion that wide roads with heavy traffic form effective barriers to all target
animal species with the exception of birds and bats.
Linking habitat patches using bridges or culverts has ameliorated the impact of roads as barriers
(Reed et al. 1975; Hunt et al. 1987; Woods 1990; Yanes et al. 1995; Romin and Bissonette 1996;
Keller and Pfister 1997; Clevenger and Waltho 2000). Efficacy is species-specific, so it is
important to know if the target species will use a culvert or bridge and, if so, if the benefit to the
population caused by the connection outweighs the impact to the population caused by increased
mortality adjacent to the road. A large, landscape-scale preserve is better than smaller preserves
linked by narrow corridors (Simberloff et al. 1992). That said, if a potential habitat core is
insufficient to meet the criterion of viable population size, but can be connected to nearby habitat
via a bridge or culvert so that the area in total is sufficient, then the use of culverts and bridges
should be considered. The uncertainties alluded to by Simberloff et al. (1992) prompted the SAC
to first select core areas in habitat without roads; but if a potential Core Habitat area satisfied all
criteria except size, then the SAC considered linking that habitat to adjacent habitat using a
bridge or culvert.
Fragmentation of a Covered Species’ habitat patches by intervening unsuitable habitat would
prove as detrimental a barrier as are manmade barriers, especially when habitat patches are
relatively small within a matrix of unsuitable habitat. An example is the blowsand habitat that is
restricted to isolated pockets in the Indio Hills (Barrows 1997). These pockets are surrounded by
a non-habitat matrix of rocky alluvium. The SAC did not include these as Core Habitat, even
though many contained some of the target species, because the habitat patches were small and
widely spaced. Although Ricketts (2001) found that different types of non-habitat matrices differ
in their resistance to movement between habitat patches by individuals, there was no attempt to
qualitatively analyze the matrix in this way. Instead, this type of fragmentation was filtered out at
the species modeling process by the level of resolution used. Habitat was categorized by its
predominant constituent, so the habitat patches in Core Habitat were always substantially larger
in area than the non-habitat matrix.
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Biological Corridors and Linkages. A Linkage is “habitat that permits the movement of
organisms between ecological isolates” (Newmark 1993) and that will “enhance or maintain the
viability” of target species in those ecological isolates (Beier and Noss 1998). Linkages allow for
migration in wide-ranging animals, plant propagation, interchange of genetic material among
populations, movement in response to environmental change or natural disasters, and
recolonization following extirpation (Beier and Loe 1992). Biological Corridors (wildlife
movement areas that are constrained by existing development, freeways, or other impediments)
are of particular importance in that they give large predators access to otherwise isolated
preserves. Large predators play an important role in controlling populations of mesopredators,
which in turn prey upon target species (Crooks and Soulé 1999). Biological Corridors may also
aid in the function of ecosystem processes, such as sand transport. Considerable discussion of
Biological Corridor and Linkage benefits and disadvantages exists in the literature (for example,
Simberloff and Cox 1987; Noss 1987). In essence, Linkages should resemble the habitat they are
connecting, they must be wide enough to lessen edge effects, and they must connect habitat that
was originally interconnected. The longer a Biological Corridor, the more important that it be
wide and that it contain the habitat requirements of a target species. Biological Corridors and
Linkages may have disadvantages, as they may serve as the potential avenue for transmitting
disease, fire, exotic weeds, and other catastrophes.
Following is a list of Biological Corridors and Linkages addressed by the Plan and the function
of each:
The San Gorgonio Pass separates populations of montane species in the Peninsular Range
from Transverse Range populations, which are connected in turn to populations in the
Sierra Nevada to the north. A corridor here connects populations in Southern California
and Baja California with central and northern California populations (M.E. Soulé, pers.
comm.). Large species, especially those that show some migratory behavior, probably
used this corridor in the past (mule deer, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, etc). The I-10
freeway and Highway 111 form barriers that would be impervious without the bridges
and culverts located at the washes. The under crossing at Stubbe Canyon is large and is
included in the conservation area. Future development adjacent to other bridges and
culverts would further limit their effectiveness.
The Whitewater River and adjacent floodplain is a sand source corridor primarily, but
also serves as a corridor for Coachella Valley milkvetch between Snow Creek/Windy
Point Conservation Area and the Whitewater Floodplain Preserve. Heavy traffic volume
on Indian Avenue will not affect dispersal of plant seeds, but will stop movements by
animals. A bridge or very large culverts, installed at the point where the Whitewater
River normally flows across Indian Avenue, would allow animal and sand movement
below the road while keeping the road open to traffic during flood events. Although this
corridor is many times larger than the home range size of any of these animal species, it
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contains pockets of habitat and so would function as a conduit for gene flow between the
two Conservation Areas.
Mission Creek is identified as a sand source corridor for the Whitewater Floodplain
Preserve and the Willow Hole and Edom Hill Conservation Areas. It may also function as
a large-predator corridor, specifically for coyotes, for these preserves.
Morongo Wash The wash is narrow (300 feet) and in some areas is bordered by low-to
medium-density residential development. It is identified as a sand source corridor for the
Whitewater Floodplain Preserve and the Willow Hole and Edom Hill Conservation
Areas. It may also function as a large-predator corridor, specifically for coyotes, for these
preserves, and may provide habitat connectivity between the Upper Mission Creek/Big
Morongo Canyon Conservation Area and the Willow Hole Conservation Area.
Indio Hills/Joshua Tree National Park Linkage is a corridor connecting the Indio Hills
and the Thousand Palms Preserve with the Little San Bernardino Mountains and the
protected areas of Joshua Tree National Park. This ensures a source for species that
formerly moved freely between the two areas, such as desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, kit
foxes, gray foxes, badgers, chuckwallas, desert tortoise, etc.
Desert Tortoise Linkage Conservation Area in the eastern portion of the Plan Area links
the Mecca Hills and the Orocopia Mountains with the Little San Bernardino and Eagle
Mountains. It is a habitat corridor for the desert tortoise and serves as a movement
corridor for many other species.
Climate Change. The 20th century ended with one of the warmest decades since climate data
were recorded instrumentally, and probably the warmest since the 1400s (Hulme and Sheard
1999). Globally, the average surface temperature increased 0.6°C in the last century caused, in
large part, by increased atmospheric “greenhouse gasses” (Wigley 1999). Recent computer
models estimate temperature increases to about 0.5°C by the year 2060 in the southwestern
United States (Giorgi et al. 1998; Doherty and Mearns 1999). For a perspective, global
temperatures increased only about 0.5°C since the Ice Age 18,000 years ago.
Changes in precipitation are less easy to model because of the diverse topography of the
southwestern United States. Coarse-resolution models such as the Canadian Centre for Climate
Modeling and Analysis model and the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research model
predict substantial increases in annual precipitation, while a high-resolution, regional model
depicts a slight decrease in precipitation relative to present averages (Doherty and Mearns 1999;
Mearns et al. 1999). The high-resolution, regional model differs from the others in that the jet
stream shifts to the north rather than to the south as in the other two models. None of these
models are yet capable of incorporating the effects of El Niño/La Niña or the North Pacific
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Oscillation and so, could be further refined. Temperature change is positively correlated with the
frequency of El Niño events (Hunt 1999a, b) and its complementary, La Niña. El Niño typically
results in cooler winters with higher rainfall, while La Niña results in warm, dry winters. Thus
the increased variation caused by El Niño/La Niña events may accompany the trend toward an
increase in temperatures in the region (Hunt 1999a, b; Timmerman et al. 1999).
The range of climatic conditions in which a species or vegetation type occurs, its climate
envelope, has been used to predict how climate change might affect its distribution. It assumes
that the geographic range of a species or vegetation type is defined by current climatic conditions
in that range. Increases in global temperatures result in poleward shifts (or upward shifts in
mountainous areas) of the climatic envelopes, followed by a similar, poleward migration of the
species or vegetation types as the climate in their existing locale becomes unsuitable (Box 1981;
Emanuel 1985). This type of migration occurred during the Pleistocene in North America as
plant species moved north and south in response to intermittent periods of glaciation (Brown and
Lomolino 1998). But the rapid pace of the current warming trend is a cause of concern, as it is
not known if plant species are capable of migrating that quickly. As climatic conditions warmed
following the last Ice Age, trees migrated, on average, about 1 km per decade to keep pace with
the changing climate. However, estimates for global warming rates predict a tenfold increase,
requiring 10 km per decade migration rates (Davis 1989; Dyer 1995). Fortunately, the steep
topography surrounding the Coachella Valley permits a spatial propinquity of life zones so
migrations need only be of a few kilometers rather than hundreds of kilometers.
The Preferred Alternative will preserve the majority of land from the toe of slope to the ridgeline
of mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley. This landscape-scale protection promotes the
upward migration of species and vegetation types in response to global warming. There is a
distinct possibility that the highest elevation ecosystems could be reduced or lost entirely, a
consequence that cannot be ameliorated by the Plan. Additionally, the climate envelope approach
does not account for species and vegetation types that are adapted to specific soil types (Malcolm
and Pitelka 2000). The aeolian sand inhabitants, for example, are restricted to blowsand,
regardless of climate changes. Part of the rationale for the SAC’s criteria of preserving multiple
habitat cores for each target species is that the Core Habitat areas will include the current range
of climatic and environmental conditions occupied by each species. For example, the Coachella
Valley fringe-toed lizard has a Core Habitat at Windy Point (elevation 1000 feet, 305 m); another
site 5 miles (8 km) east at Whitewater Floodplain reserve (elevation 600 feet, 180 m); a third site
another 3 1/2 miles (5.6 km) east-northeast at Willow Hole (elevation 750 feet, 230m); and the
fourth site another 9 miles (14.5 km) from Willow Hole at the Thousand Palms Preserve
(elevation 200 feet, 60 m). These sites are spread out over a distance of over 18 miles (29 km),
and each has a distinct assemblage of sand sources (see above). There is also a descending
gradient in annual precipitation at points increasingly distant (farther east) from the San
Gorgonio Pass. Annual rainfall for the following centers, arranged from west to east, is as
follows: Palm Springs, 5.31” (134.9 mm); Indio Fire Station, 3.81” (96.8 mm); Thermal F.A.A.
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Airport, 3.16” (80.3 mm); Mecca Fire Station, 2.94” (74.7 mm) (U.S. Climatological Records
2000). So, by including geographically distinct sites, the multiple sites criterion will include the
range of conditions a given species inhabits today. As the climate changes in the future, there is a
possibility that the habitat at one or more sites will become unsuitable for a target species. But
preserving multiple sites in this manner will increase the likelihood that some refugia for each of
the species will be maintained if climatic conditions change over time.
Reserve Size. The theory of island biogeography (MacArthur and Wilson 1963, 1967) was
applied early on to habitat preserves (Diamond 1975; Wilson and Willis 1975). In particular, 1)
the number of species should be an increasing function of a preserve’s area; 2) the extinction rate
should be a decreasing function of a preserve’s area; and 3) the relationship between area and
survival probability differs among species (Diamond 1975). MacArthur and Wilson (1963,
1967) describe the number of species on an island as an equilibrium between immigration rate
and extinction rate. The intent of preserves is to prevent extinction for the long term, so
extinction rate is of particular importance. A smaller island or preserve will normally contain
fewer individuals of a target species making it vulnerable to extinction through stochastic causes:
1) genetic factors that, through chance events, affect negatively the ability of a population to
adapt to a changing environment (founder effect, inbreeding depression, random fixation); and 2)
demographic factors (e.g., sex ratio, reproductive output, age at sexual maturity) (Shaffer 1981,
1987; Soulé 1980, 1987; Lande and Barrowclough 1987). Richman et al. (1988) found that land-
bridge islands had an elevated extinction parameter caused, in part, by species’ susceptibility to
fluctuations in climate. This elevation of the extinction parameter decreases with increase in
island area. Like islands, larger preserves may contain more topographic relief and habitat
heterogeneity, providing refuges from which the preserve can be repopulated and thus have
lower extinction rates (den Boer 1981).
Preserves identified by the Plan contain Core Habitat for target species. This Core Habitat, as
discussed previously, is considered large in that each Core Habitat area alone consists of
sufficient area to maintain a viable population. Multiple core areas that are interconnected by
corridors or by management practices allow recolonization if climatic fluctuations or
environmental catastrophes cause the complete loss of a population.
Edge Effects. A habitat edge is a discontinuity in habitat features that can be perceived by a
target species and that, in turn, affects the species’ behavior or performance (Lidicker 1999).
Conservation biologists refine the definition as it pertains to preserve design to include changes
in a natural community caused by the rapid creation of abrupt edges in what were previously
undisturbed habitat patches (Lovejoy et al. 1986; Soulé 1986). Of particular interest are the
negative effects of edges. Conservation Areas in the Plan Area will, eventually, be nearly
surrounded by human-altered habitat that is not suitable for target species within the preserve.
Roads, railroads, urban and agricultural developments, greenbelts, etc., will all affect species
within the Conservation Areas they surround. Road mortality may depress populations in
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adjacent habitat; predation from pets and children will increase as urban housing is built to the
habitat edge; overspray of pesticides and herbicides can affect some species in habitat adjacent to
agriculture. The depth that edge effects penetrate a preserve varies by target species, by habitat
type within a preserve, and by type of edge. For example, Winter et al. (2000) found that
mesopredators affect nesting success of grassland-nesting sparrows 30 to 50 meters from an edge
formed by shrubs, but that roads, agricultural fields, and forests had no effect. But Rosen and
Lowe (1994) suggested that snake mortality on roads affected the population well away from the
road and into wilderness areas. Studies show that effects diminish with increasing distance into
the habitat from the edge (Gates and Mosher 1981; Wilcove et al. 1986; Andrén and Angelstam
1988; Winter et al. 2000). It is difficult to measure the width of edge effects but Newmark (1993)
used a performance measure for the target species across the edge to determine the width of edge
effects in a Tanzanian forest by measuring encounter distance of birds from the forest edge.
Encounters of the target species increase with distance from the edge to a point where the
number of encounters remains constant. This distance was, again, species specific.
Edge effects are directly related to perimeter length. Because area increases geometrically with
increase in perimeter length, an increase in area results in a decrease in perimeter-to-area ratio
(assuming shape remains unchanged). So a large preserve can minimize edge effects when its
area is large enough that the portion affected by proximity to the edge is insignificant relative to
the entirety. Thus, a large preserve is internally buffered. Such a large preserve may not be an
option because there is either insufficient undeveloped habitat, or the habitat by its nature is
small. When this is the case, it may be possible to lessen the edge effects by choosing the type of
edge that will impact the target species least. The SAC ranked the common types of edges in
increasing order of impact: 1) nonhabitat matrix (a natural habitat that is unsuitable for the
survival of the target species); 2) very low-density residential development (one dwelling per 5
or more acres); 3) greenbelt or agricultural development; 4) roads with high traffic volume; 5)
high density residential development (one dwelling per less than 1 acre). So, isolating habitat
from high-density urban areas with a buffer of nonhabitat matrix will lessen the impacts to the
target species dependent on that habitat. High-density residential development affects nearby
habitat greater than other edge types because house cats, dogs, and opportunistic mesopredators
such as raccoons, opossums, skunks, crows and ravens are subsidized by garbage and pet food
(Wilcove 1985; Friesen et al. 1995), especially in the absence of larger predators which act to
control numbers of mesopredators (Wilcove 1985; Crooks and Soulé 1999). The SAC considered
roads, as edges, to be preferable to high-residential development because the roads would serve
as a barrier to mesopredators, a benefit that would outweigh the cost to target species of
mortality from vehicles. Additionally, roads can be fenced to prevent mortality if monitoring
demonstrates the need.
Preserve shape can also minimize edge effects. A circular preserve, for example, has a much
lower perimeter-to-area ratio than does a long, thin preserve. The SAC attempted to minimize
perimeter-to-area ratios when delineating preserves that encompass Core Habitat of target
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species.
Section 3.7 in this appendix explains the Site Identification Process used to develop the
Conservation Alternatives.
3.3 Independent Science Advisors
As previously noted, Michael O’Connell of The Nature Conservancy facilitated an outside peer
review by a team of independent scientists. This team was provided with a series of questions
and asked to respond to the questions in their review. The questions were assembled through
suggestions from the SAC, the USFWS, and the Department of Fish and Game. In addition, the
CVAG Project Advisor Group provided an opportunity for any interested person to propose a
question. In January 2001, documents providing information on the conservation planning
process, including copies of a January 2001 revision of the Administrative Review Draft, maps
of Conservation Alternatives 1, 2, and 3, species distribution models and known occurrence
maps and associated documentation, maps illustrating land ownership, natural features, parcel
boundaries, and conserved natural communities within the Plan Area, and a draft Technical
Appendix, which included target species and natural community conservation strategies, were
distributed to the Independent Science Advisors. A meeting with the science advisors and the
SAC was held in early February to provide an opportunity for the independent science advisors
to discuss the conservation planning process with the SAC. The Independent Science Advisors
(ISA) also met with outside participants to discuss the Plan. In mid-April they submitted a report
detailing their findings. The report, “Independent Science Advisors’ Review: Coachella Valley
Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Communities Conservation Plan
(MSHCP/NCCP)” is included in this section in its entirety.
[NOTE: all references in the ISA report on the following pages to conservation alternatives 1, 2, and 3,
refer to the initial alternatives prepared in 2000, not the alternatives contained in the Plan. Section
3.7.2 of this appendix provides additional information on these three alternatives.]
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Independent Science Advisors’ Review:
Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/
Natural Communities Conservation Plan (MSHCP/NCCP)
Reviewers: Drs. Reed Noss (Editor), Edith Allen, Greg Ballmer, Jay
Diffendorfer, Michael Soulé, Richard Tracy, and Robert Webb
Michael O’Connell, Facilitator
April 13, 2001
This report constitutes the peer review of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat
Conservation Plan/Natural Communities Conservation Plan (MSHCP/NCCP) by a group of
independent science advisors. Three of the reviewers—Reed Noss, Michael Soulé, and Dick
Tracyparticipated previously as peer reviewers of early phases of the planning process in the
Coachella Valley at two workshops organized by the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy,
in 1996 and 1998. We otherwise played no role in the development of this plan until being
convened for this review. Two additional advisors, Robert Fisher and Robert McKernan,
participated in a workshop (described below) on Feb. 12-13, 2001, but did not join in the writing
of this review.
We were provided a list of 32 questions under which to organize our review. The questions were
developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, the
Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, and the Coachella Valley Association of
Governments, and grouped into sections considering general habitat and landscape issues,
species issues, habitat monitoring and adaptive management, geomorphology, and species
modeling (Appendix 1). A draft set of questions was revised in response to comments by Mike
O’Connell, Reed Noss, and others. Although we used these questions to organize our comments
in this report, in many cases we found that currently available data do not allow us—or probably
anyoneto answer the stated question effectively. In several cases we lumped related questions
for the sake of efficiency.
In conducting our review we referred to several documents and a substantial series of maps
prepared by the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy with the assistance of the participating
agencies. The primary document was the January 2001 Administrative Review Draft (ARD) of
the Coachella Valley MSHCP/NCCP. Supplementary documents included a Technical
Appendix, a document on Species Distribution Model Parameters and Known Locations, an
Adaptive Management and Monitoring Program, and the Coachella Valley Draft Water
Management Plan. Maps included general geographical information, vegetation (including
historic for a portion of the study area), plan alternatives, a species richness and ecological
diversity model, and species distribution models. We benefited tremendously from a workshop
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held in Palm Desert on February 12-13, 2001, during which members of the Science Advisory
Committee (SAC) which developed the core of the plan, the Coachella Valley Mountains
Conservancy, and other participating agencies presented the conceptual approach, major data,
and assumptions underlying the plan to our team of reviewers and responded to our questions.
Our review team then met separately for the second day of the workshop, discussed our initial
responses to the questions, and made assignments to our individual members to take the lead on
particular questions.
Although we are technically individual science advisors and reviewers, this review represents a
consensus and the collective opinion of our team. This report consists of two sections: 1) a brief
overview stating our general impressions of the draft plan and its three biological alternatives;
and 2) responses to the specific questions provided to us by the agencies and planners.
We also want to note that we are explicitly aware that the success of the Coachella Valley
MSHCP will depend not only on a scientifically-supported conservation program but one that
can be implemented successfully given socioeconomic and political constraints. Our comments
in this document are made with the knowledge that these other factors may weigh heavily on the
final conservation plan. The primary task of the planning team is to weigh the conservation
program against these issues. It is our firm belief, however, that the biological conservation
program itself particularly as reflected in the alternatives should not be compromised in its
initial stages based on estimations of the political economy of the planning area. It is essential
that a supportable biological alternative be offered that can be evaluated in the context of politics
and economics. It is with this perspective in mind that we offer our comments.
General Impressions of the Plan and Its Alternatives
First, we want to commend the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and others who
contributed to the Draft Plan for producing what is sure to be one of the most scientifically
defensible and thorough HCPs or NCCPs ever developed. Although our comments in this review
take the form of a critique, as they must in order to constitute a substantive review, we do not
mean to imply failure on the part of the planners. We recognize that substantial effort and
analysis have gone into the Draft Plan, and in our view it has no fatal flaws. Our comments are
meant instead to point out areas where the plan can be shored up or improved based on our
collective knowledge and review of the technical documents.
The main stimulus for the Coachella Valley MCHCP/NCCP is the requirement under Section
10(a) of the U.S. Endangered Species Act for a habitat conservation plan to be approved before
“incidental take” of listed species (animal species) on private lands is permitted. The ongoing
conversion of natural habitats within the Coachella Valley to other land uses and the consequent
reduction in acreage and alteration of the structure and processes of those habitats has placed
many species at risk of extinction. To be effective, the Plan must identify the species at risk, their
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distributions, and the factors necessary to maintain their essential habitats. The Plan must also
include a means to preserve and manage those species and their habitats together with the
geophysical and biological factors that maintain them. Because the Plan is not just a MSHCP,
but also a NCCP, it must provide a means to conserve the natural communities of the Plan Area,
not just an assortment of individual species.
On a continental scale, the Coachella Valley is a hot spot of biodiversity, distinguished by high
endemism, rarity, and richness of several taxa. For example, researchers with The Nature
Conservancy and the Association for Biodiversity Information identified this portion of Southern
California as one of six regions in the United States that rank in the top tier of conservation
priority based on a rarity-weighted richness index (S. Chaplin et al. 2000, Chapter 6 in Precious
Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States, Oxford University Press). Common
sense suggests that one should not develop or impact resources in a hot spot, because the chances
for conflict with conservation objectives are extremely high. Neither common sense nor a
conservation ethic has prevailed in past land-use decisions, however. In the case of the Coachella
Valley, the most important habitats for biodiversity are largely private land and very expensive,
many have been developed for decades, and the pace of development remains rapid. A credible
conservation plan for the Coachella Valley will be difficult to forge but is required to resolve
continuing conflicts.
We agree in principle with the general planning paradigm of the SAC, i.e., that any action taken
in the Plan, for example, establishment of a conservation area or corridor, must be both sufficient
and essential (C. Barrows, pers. comm.). We interpret “sufficient” to mean that it will assure the
stated goal or objective (e.g., maintenance of viable populations of covered species) and
“essential” to mean that, without the action, the goal or objective will not be attained. Hence,
superfluous actions are avoided. In practice, however, the thresholds of sufficiency and necessity
are always ill-defined. Estimates of what is sufficient or essential are subjective and highly
uncertain, informed as much by individual experience and intuition as by hard data and rigorous
analysis. We suspect that much of the apparent disagreement about which biological alternative
in the plan should be preferred reflects such individual differences in perspective.
One of the major concerns of our team regarding the planning process and the general content of
the biological alternatives in the Draft Plan is that scientific information was often mixed with
pragmatism and perceived political reality, without any documentation of how these two classes
of knowledge were combined. We believe the credibility of the Plan would be enhanced by
addressing ecological issues as objectively and scientifically as possible, free from the
constraints of perceived political reality. Socioeconomic and political factors can be considered
later as a “cost screen” overlaid on planning alternatives. We address this issue in more detail in
some of the responses to our assigned questions.
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In cases of high uncertainty and high risk, the precautionary principle suggests that it is better to
err on the side of protecting too much habitat than too little, that is, to err on the side of
sufficiency rather than necessity. Of course, too great an error in either direction will condemn a
plan to political, legal, or economic failure. The best way to minimize the chances of error, and
hence meet the sufficiency-necessity standard, is through rigorous science. In practice, however,
data, funding, and time are usually insufficient for highly rigorous scientific investigations on the
scale of a regional conservation plan. This is the case here. The sufficiency-necessity problem
remains, and we would like to see this problem receive more explicit attention in the
MSHCP/NCCP.
The Draft Coachella Valley MSHCP/NCCP proposes three conservation design alternatives.
Alternative 1 would protect only those lands already in public ownership. We can consider this
alternative a null hypothesis that can be easily rejected, as it clearly falls short of meeting the
requirements of law (e.g., U.S. Endangered Species Act, California Natural Communities
Conservation Planning Act). The Draft Plan properly concludes that Alternative 1 does not
contain sufficient natural habitats and associated resources to fulfill essential goals. Alternatives
2 and 3 encompass all lands in Alternative 1 and contain additional private lands. Alternative 3,
which was developed based on recommendations from state and federal agencies, is the largest
in acreage and subsumes Alternative 2. There is some difference of opinion among the public
agencies and other stakeholders regarding the adequacy of Alternative 2 and the need to include
some or all of the additional lands identified in Alternative 3. The possibility also exists that even
Alternative 3 does not include sufficient habitat and/or other resources to sustain the covered
species. Uncertainties remain concerning the minimum habitat areas for particular species, the
importance of specific areas as habitat for these species, and the value of potential corridors for
flow of individuals and genes and/or maintenance of critical geophysical processes, such as sand
and water sources and fluvial and aeolian sand transport.
The Draft Plan should account for the need of covered species to track changes in the
distributions of their habitats over time in response to climatic or other environmental changes.
In this regard, it is notable that species distributions are often correlated with temperature and
moisture gradients, which are likely to shift in response to climatic change. Thus, a warmer, drier
climate is likely to cause species associated with higher moisture and/or cooler temperature
regimes to be reduced in numbers or eliminated from existing occupied habitat lands where
climatic conditions are currently marginal. Such species could become more restricted to the
western portion of the Plan Area (Whitewater-Snow Creek-Windy Point areas). Conversely, in
the event of climatic cooling, which is a probable successor to the current warming phase,
species associated with warmer and drier habitats may become more restricted to the valley floor
and southeastern portions of the Plan Area. Maintaining well-connected, heterogeneous
landscapes with multiple microhabitats and potential refugia is a sensible strategy in the face of
climate change in any direction (R. Noss, 2001, Conservation Biology 15: in press). Thus, long-
term conservation planning for the Coachella Valley must consider maintenance of physical
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linkages over a range of existing temperature-moisture regimes and elevations. We note that the
Draft Plan gives scant attention to such long-term issues.
The Plan, especially Alternative 3, maintains considerable landscape connectivity around the
margins of the valley, which are mostly mountainous terrain, but much more tenuous linkage
opportunities across or longitudinally through the valley. To a large extent the opportunities for
such linkages are precluded by agricultural and, to a greater extent, urban land uses.
Nevertheless, some opportunity exists to use the Whitewater River channel, the railroad right-of-
way, and even highway rights-of-way to maintain some level of connectivity through the length
of the valley. The Whitewater River in particular seems to be a good candidate for maintaining a
linkage for a number of habitats. Serious discussion of this option should be included in the Plan.
Of course, regulatory agencies must consider the costs and benefits of conserving particular areas
relative to other potential sites in the planning area before they enter negotiations with
stakeholders.
Responses to Specific Questions Posed to Science Advisors
The general reaction of our team to the questions provided is that many of them are questions
best addressed to the planners, not to reviewers. In many cases data that would allow us, or
anyone, to answer the questions are not available. The four geomorphology questions are a case
in point: Answering any of these questions would require substantial new research. Nevertheless,
in all cases we have provided our best answers, given the best available information. In some
cases we suggest the kinds of field studies and analyses that would be necessary to answer the
questions definitively.
I. Habitat/Landscape Level Questions:
1. Evaluate each Conservation Alternative using the attached “Criteria for Evaluating Site
Identification Maps.” (Conservation Alternatives are described on pages 90-105 of
Administrative Review Draft).
Choosing among alternatives boils down to an exercise in best professional estimation. High
quality data sufficient to make a defensible choice of an alternative are simply not available. This
lack of data is par for the course in conservation planning. As noted earlier, we believe that in the
face of poor data, the precautionary principle should hold. In all of the 11 specific areas of
contention (i.e., areas of land included in Alternative 3 but not Alternative 2), and all else being
equal, we can be sure that the Plan would be improved by the inclusion of additional habitat.
Thus, the burden of proof should rest on showing that excluding the additional areas in
Alternative 3 will not jeopardize the ability of the plan to sustain viable populations of the
covered species. Because the SAC included their estimation of socioeconomic and political
criteria in decisions that, at this point in the process, should have been made purely on
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biological/ecological grounds, we do not believe they placed the burden of proof on the correct
side in developing Alternative 2. This is particularly important given that precisely how
socioeconomic and political criteria influenced their decisions is not documented in the Draft
Plan.
The SAC’s general approach in developing Alternative 2 was to suggest that adding extra habitat
would not increase the Plan’s ability to sustain populations. They appeared to be influenced more
by necessity than sufficiency. In several cases we believe the SAC overemphasized potential
negative aspects of sites suggested by the agencies in Alternative 3, or at least did not provide
adequate documentation for these assumed negative aspects. For example, in arguing against the
inclusion of the “Flat-top Mountain and Dune Area North of I-10" (p. 106 of the Administrative
Review Draft [ARD] and in comments during the February workshop), the SAC’s argument for
not including the area was that the dunes were no longer active, and this, combined with the high
per-acre value of property in the dunes meant that the area was not necessary for protection of
the species on the proposed covered species list. The idea that the area, though sub-optimal,
might serve as a buffer for the more intact areas to the north was not considered or documented
explicitly, nor were potential management practices apparently considered, such as active
disturbance to reactivate dunes or human-assisted movement of sand into the system. Such
procedures, while expensive and intensive, might be necessary for the conservation of some
species or natural communities.
In another case, “the area between Date Palm and the extension of Duval Road” (pg 110 ARD)
Alternative 2 appears to exaggerate the potential negative effects of human structures on the
conservation value of the site, or at least does not provide adequate documentation to support the
conclusion that these structures eliminate the area for conservation purposes. During the
workshop the SAC indicated that the primary reason they did not include this area in Alternative
2 was the presence of a road that bisects it. In the ARD the SAC also discusses the small size of
the area. Aerial photographs of the site indicate that large portions of the area are not bisected by
roads and that the area, while small, could sustain large populations of some of the endemic
insects and plants covered in the Plan. This area may have been dismissed too quickly and the
presence of a road weighed too heavily in the decision-making process. Although substantial
scientific literature suggests that roads have negative effects on many taxa, making the presence
of a single, two-lane road the primary reason for rejecting a site overextends the scientific
evidence for negative effects of roads. Many assumed barriers are better seen as filters, as some
movement of organisms occurs across them. We understand that plans to widen this road exist,
but the Alternative did not consider the possibility of designing a road to include underpasses for
animals.
Moreover, it is not enough to do conservation on maps. As pointed out later in our comments,
especially with regard to adaptive management, the Plan must specify the ways in which
mistakes or omissions in the Plan will be corrected in the future. Ideally, each conservation sub-
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area requires its own plan with explicit biological objectives and management approaches
identified.
As suggested earlier, the documents seem to have taken a largely static view of the ecosystems
of the Coachella Valley. In some cases they are perhaps too narrowly focused on the notion of a
pristine, self-managing system as the only kind of habitat that should be included in a reserve.
The documents appear to have given little attention to options such as maintaining habitat for the
covered species via active management. The plan also does not explicitly consider the possibility
that habitats disturbed by human activities may recover over time or be restored to provide
suitable habitat in the future (see R. Webb et al., 1988, The effects of disturbance on desert
vegetation in Death Valley National Monument, Cal. USGS Bulletin 1793). Recovery from soil
compaction requires about 80-120 years in the Mojave Desert (R. Webb et al., 1986, Soil Science
Society of America Journal 5): 1341-1344).
The inclusion or deletion of lands proposed for conservation in Alternatives 2 and 3 must be
based on sound principles of conservation biology and factual evidence or strong inference of
conservation value. Because the additional lands proposed for inclusion in Alternative 3 are
scattered throughout the Plan Area and because their proposed inclusion is based on diverse
factors, each must be considered separately. We do this briefly below for several of the areas
under discussion.
Expanded Snow Creek Area between Interstate 10 and California Highway 111, west of the
Whitewater River.
This area is located within an important transient sand source and sand transport area and
provides habitat for sand endemics such as the Coachella Valley Jerusalem cricket, Coachella
Valley Giant Sand-treader cricket, and Palm Springs pocket mouse. Although this land currently
may not be crucial to the protection of these species, it offers a refugium during major flood
events that could affect the adjacent Snow Creek/San Gorgonio Wash habitat area and provides a
broader contact zone between that area and Whitewater Canyon. Additionally, it should be noted
that many sand endemic species (including those mentioned above) are distributed primarily in
the northwestern end of the Coachella Valley and are probably limited by moisture and
temperature gradients. Ongoing climate change will alter the existing temperature/moisture
gradient and, thus, the distribution of suitable habitats for many species. Some species already
concentrated in the northwestern portion of the Plan Area are likely to become more confined to
it, as they are eliminated from areas further east. Use of this land for wind-generated electric
power might be compatible with both the conservation of covered species that persist under this
form of land use and perhaps for the conservation of natural communities.
Although Alternative 2 concludes that natural ecological processes for this land have been
compromised by the railroad and by Highway 111, the habitat in this area has similar value to
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that in the adjacent areas of Snow Creek/San Gorgonio River Wash, and Windy Point. In Greg
Ballmer’s experience, the arthropods are the same and may even be more abundant in the
proposed expansion area of Alternative 3. Highway 111 and the railroad are not absolute barriers
to movement of either the sand-inhabiting arthropods or the sand in this area.
This triangular-shaped parcel, bounded by major highways to the north and south and the
Whitewater River to the east, could be a major refugia for animals dependent on local aeolian
systems. The San Gorgonio River is isolated from this parcel owing to the barrier formed by
California 111, and the Whitewater River is channelized as it passes north to south along its east
end. Small, relatively active areas of sand exist in this parcel, suggesting that it might be
marginal habitat for sand-preferring organisms covered under the MSHCP. In addition, several
species have known distributions in this area, which is relatively pristine in comparison to
similar areas towards the northeast. The assumption that the natural ecological processes for this
parcel have been compromised is not entirely correct, but public agencies are regularly
bulldozing the Whitewater River channel in this area with the apparent goal of eliminating
riparian vegetation that uses Colorado River aqueduct water destined for the recharge galleries
downstream. Because this practice effectively eliminates cover that might provide a wildlife-
migration corridor, the MSHCP should explicitly suggest that the practice be eliminated. If it is
eliminated, the value of the triangular parcel would be greatly increased.
Expanded Mission Creek Area
This area may provide low-density habitat for a few vertebrate species, such as desert tortoise. Its
inclusion in the reserve system would also provide a more defensible perimeter and buffer for the
adjacent Mission Creek conservation area. It would be useful to have more information on the
biological resources of this expansion area and an analysis of potential damage to the Mission
Creek area if it were urbanized or converted to other uses. Additionally, it should be noted that a
recent finding of the Coachella Valley Jerusalem cricket in a patch of aeolian sand atop the bluffs
on the north side of Whitewater Canyon (wind farm area) indicates that this species is somewhat
more widespread than previously thought and may occur in the expanded Mission Creek area.
Further surveys for this species are probably warranted in this area.
One of the major rationales for including this expansion in Alternative 3 is the belief from
previous reports that the area provides a significant source of fluvial sand that could be entrained
and moved downstream to the aeolian source area. This belief is incorrect; most of the sand
supply transported in Mission and Morongo Creeks comes from areas upslope from this parcel,
which mostly serves as a zone of transport from mountain front to depositional area.
Channelization of Mission Creek in this area could improve sand delivery from the sources in the
San Bernardino Mountains to the depositional area south of the Banning fault by improving
hydraulic conveyance across the alluvial fan (which is built from sedimentation from Mission
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Creek and Morongo Wash) to the depositional plain west of Willow Hole and minimize within-
channel storage of sand that is unavailable for aeolian transport.
Expanded Whitewater Preserve Area
The water recharge basins along the Whitewater River south of I-10 and north of Highway 111
are in the middle of a potential sand transport area. However, the configuration of the basins
greatly impedes sand transport—dunes are present on the downwind sides of the basins and are
effectively trapped until released by dredging. The river floodway is routed around the basins
and, thus, does not interdict much of the sediment flow. It may become possible to reorient the
basins at some time in the future to increase the rate of aeolian sand transport, while also
reducing basin maintenance costs. As the basins are designed to wash out in a major flood event,
there seems to be no urgency in altering their orientation at this time. It would be appropriate to
discuss such matters with the water district staff to determine the feasibility of future alterations.
Also, the presence of the basins serves as a wind shadow for significant areas downwind of the
basins but upwind of the Preserve that could be viable habitat for several species covered under
the MSHCP. The presence of wind generators on this land, plus its prime location as depositional
area for Whitewater River, plus the potential for aeolian transport across it makes it a prime
candidate for restoration. One potential means would be to alter the configuration of the main
northern dike that protects the recharge galleries from the Whitewater River at flood stage by
shortening it (not adding dredged material as is done currently). This would allow large floods to
spread out sooner, dropping their sand loads upwind from the Whitewater Preserve instead of
enhancing the probability that floodwaters will pass down river toward Palm Springs.
Expanded Willow Hole and Sand Source Area and Flat-top Mountain and dune area north
of I-10
Alternative 2 envisions protection of a relatively narrow pair of active stream channels (Mission
Creek and Morongo Wash) east of Highway 62 to maintain sediment transport to the valley floor
where it can be redistributed by aeolian processes to feed the active dunes in the Willow Hole
area. Expanded protection of this area, as proposed in Alternative 3, may increase protected
habitat for a few vertebrate species and improve the value of this corridor for animal movement
over a range of elevations. More data is needed to determine the real value of this area to the
Palm Springs pocket mouse and other species, which may use it as Core Habitat or as a
movement corridor.
Expansion of this conservation area could potentially give greater protection from potential
future flood control alterations. Observations in late February, after the February 12-13 storm,
indicates that much of the depositional area for Mission and Morongo Creeks north of I-10 is
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inundated even during relatively light runoff events. Channelization of this area would be
devastating to the Willow Hole sand-delivery system.
On the other hand, Mission Creek is already channelized between the San Andreas (Banning)
fault and about California 62. It performs the desired function: it delivers sand with minimal
storage on the alluvial fan west of Desert Hot Springs. Morongo Wash, however, is not
channelized and does store sediment in that same area. The channelization of Mission Creek also
retains sand from being lost owing to aeolian activity, while the unchannelized Morongo Creek
is losing sand, which is stored in aeolian dunes east of its channel. (This, of course, suggests
management just east of Morongo Wash for species dependent on aeolian habitat.)
Channelization is beneficial in certain circumstances related strictly to fluvial sand delivery
systems. Most floods already are caused by rainfall (the most severe rain on snow), so climatic
changeunless it shifts storms from winter to summermay not be a major issue for this area.
We expect such floods to cause degradation in the channels upslope, which means more sand is
moved into the depositional plain that is the target of the MSHCP. What is most needed is a ban
on channelization south of the San Andreas (Banning) fault, either north or south of I-10 and the
railroad. Deposition south of I-10 benefits the Whitewater River Preserve, so this is a case where
preservation of the entire system greatly benefits the aeolian-dependent species.
In addition, recent field work of Robert Webb and colleagues suggests a more direct source for
aeolian sand to Willow Hole than Mission/Morongo. There are several canyons in the Little San
Bernardino Mountains due north of Willow HoleLong Canyon, West End Canyon, and East
End Canyon—as well as a drainage in the Indio Hills due east of Willow Hole that appear to be
potential major contributors of fluvial sand. West End and East End Canyons are blocked by a
long dike system that effectively stores all sediment at the mountain front while releasing water
through a long, mostly underground culvert that flows to the southwest and away from Willow
Hole. Active management of undeveloped parts of the Seven Palms Valley, particularly related
to channelization of distributary flow channels from Long Canyon, could be helpful to the
Willow Hole sand-delivery system while allowing development upslope.
Big Dune South of I-10
The major controversy for this site seems to be economic cost versus biological benefit. It may
very well be too costly in terms of money and/or political capital to protect. Nevertheless, the
biological value of this site should determine whether to include it within the scope of the
conservation program in the Draft Plan. Much of the rationale for excluding it seems to be a
presumption that it is a “dead” dune, cut off from the sand source that is needed to maintain it as
an active dune. However, some of the covered species do quite well in stabilized dunes and may
inhabit the Big Dune. Further survey work is needed to determine if it is an important site for
Coachella Valley Jerusalem cricket, for example. This area is very near the easternmost record
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for this species (adjacent to I-10 at the Thousand Palms off-ramp. See also our response to
Question #1, Species Level, All Species.
East End of the Indio Hills
The dunes in this area are well separated from others to the west, and land use changes have all
but eliminated sandy habitat connections between them. The formerly robust sand delivery
system from the Whitewater River - Mission Creek - Morongo Wash has been completely
truncated, leaving only sand sources in the Indio Hills and the Little San Bernardino Mountains.
The biotic community of the eastern dunes is somewhat different from those of dunes further
west; this difference provides an argument for their inclusion in the Draft Plan in order to cover
all habitat types and natural communities. It seems that there is not enough survey information
currently to determine the value of this area for a number of covered species that may use it.
Again, it is worth mentioning that climate change may result in the geographic range of this
community type, or at least of some of its components, either expanding or contracting in the
future. Under a warmer, drier climate this community is likely to expand or shift to the west;
while a cooler, moister climate could result in its displacement by other species, which currently
have a more western distribution within the valley (if landscape linkages are maintained). The
isolation of this area from other dunes argues against its value in contributing in a major way to
genetic or demographic interchange with populations elsewhere. However, given the abundance
of dune endemics (especially plants and insects) throughout the Southwest, one cannot dismiss
the possibility that a number of species could survive and maintain their evolutionary potential
even if this dune area becomes increasingly isolated.
Conclusion:
In considering how to distribute conservation areas in the Coachella Valley, two opposing
considerations should be kept in mind: 1) the need to distribute reserves throughout the planning
area in order to provide for multiple populations (redundancy) of the covered species and to
represent communities across their natural range of variation; and 2) the need to concentrate
conservation areas in portions of the Valley that are biologically richest (i.e., hot spots) or where
habitat quality if highest and persistence of populations over time is most probable. These two
considerations need to be balanced in the Plan. The argument for concentrating reserves in the
western portion of the planning area, where precipitation is higher and population densities of
covered species are generally higher, is attractive, and makes even more sense in the context of
global warming. Nevertheless, such a strategy could be counterproductive if it results in loss of
population redundancy and reduced representation of natural communities across the Valley.
Moreover, a reserve system concentrated in any one portion of the Valley would be more
vulnerable to “contagious catastrophes” (i.e., disease, extreme weather episodes, geomorphic
change) and other synchronized environmental events that could extinguish local populations.
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Alternative 1 does not provide for the sand delivery systems that affect major habitat in the
northern Coachella Valley. Alternative 2, while much better, relies too heavily on terrain and
climatic features (e.g., windy area won’t be developed into housing units) to preserve the
integrity of the sand delivery systems. Alternative 3 may go too far in some areas by assuming
that significant sand is generated on alluvial fans instead of upslope in the San Bernardino and
Little San Bernardino Mountains and the Indio Hills.
We have not undertaken a thorough analysis of the potential effects of the three planning
alternatives on covered species and natural communities, which we believe is outside the scope
of a peer review. This topic is reasonably well covered in the Draft Plan, given the limitations of
available data. In any case, these limitations prevent us from saying much more about the
potential population viability of any of these species under the Plan alternatives. Some notes on
the covered invertebrate species, prepared by Greg Ballmer, are in Appendix 1. In addition, the
team botanist and restoration ecologist, Edith Allen, provides some comments on the plant
species and natural communities:
Overall, Alternative 1 is unacceptable for two of the five plant species, but Alternative 2 is
acceptable for all five, with reasoning as follows:
Alternative 1 is clearly unacceptable for the little San Bernardino Mountains linanthus, which
has only three known locations that lie in lands protected by Alternative 1. Only 18% of the
modeled habitat for the Coachella Valley milkvetch lies in Alternative 1 protected lands. Of the
five plant species, only the triple ribbed milkvetch would be unaffected if Alternative 1 is
chosen.
The difference between Alternatives 2 and 3 is relatively small or not different for LSBM
linanthus, triple ribbed milkvetch, and Orocopia sage. The Mecca aster would lose about 20% of
its habitat if Alternative 2 is chosen, which is probably not a threat to its existence. The C.V.
milkvetch is the most extensive of the five plant species, and will lose the most acreage if
alternative 2 rather than 3 is chosen. However, protection under Alternative 2 will probably not
threaten its persistence. Of the 5 plant species, the C.V. milkvetch is the only one known to occur
on the Big Dune. The C.V. milkvetch occurs on stabilized as well as active dunes, and would
likely survive on Big Dune even though the geomorphic processes of dune building are no longer
active. The other four species are in river washes, dry fans, creosote scrub, and other
communities, but are not sand-obligate species.
Eleven of the 26 natural communities have only about 1300 acres or less in the planning area.
Alternative 1 gives insufficient protection to at least 8 of the natural communities (under a 50%
protection criterion for the communities of limited area). At least seven of these small
communities are wetland ecosystems that should be conserved as much as possible because of
the critical habitat they provide for target and non-target species. Losing wetlands and springs
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would obviously endanger additional species not currently covered. Under Alternative 2 all these
small community types would achieve up to 98% protection, except for mesquite hummocks.
Mesquite hummocks would be protected up to 50% under Alternative 3.
Two larger community types deserving special protection are the active sand fields that provide
sand for other sites as well as habitat for sand-requiring species, and the dry wash woodlands that
are habitat for many target species. The active sand receives 75% and 93% protection under
Alternatives 2 and 3, respectively, but deserves as much protection as possible to preserve other
sand-dependent habitats downwind. The dry wash woodland is quite extensive (some 40,000
acres) but is important habitat for desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, several target bird species, other
migratory birds, and is the only habitat for the LSBM linanthus. Preservation of dry wash
woodland on the northeast Salton Sea (under Alternative 3) may be important for animal
movement. Some of this woodland has been converted to exotic tamarisk, but would still be
valuable habitat and corridor if restored.
In summary, we offer the following brief responses to the “criteria for evaluating site
identification maps” as a way of comparing alternatives 1,2, and 3, emphasizing that such a
comparison is more appropriately made by the planners (i.e., the SAC) than by reviewers.
1. Are the habitat patches within the sites large enough to sustain the species/natural
community? It is important to recognize that patch size cannot be considered
independently from patch configuration; these qualities interact to influence population
viability. Two or more small patches within dispersal distance and not separated by
movement barriers may be treated as one larger patch by a species. This question is also
highly species-specific. As we have noted, data are generally insufficient to answer this
question, and no PVAs have been conducted. Nevertheless, Alternative 1 seems to be
insufficient for many species. Alternative 2 would provide patches large enough for many
or most of the covered invertebrates and plants, barring major environmental change. The
larger, better connected patches in Alternative 3 would offer higher probabilities of
persistence for most species, but especially the vertebrates.
2. How many of the existing sites where the species or natural community occurs in the
Plan Area would be protected under this Site Identification Alternative? Is this
considered to be sufficient by biologists with expertise on this species or natural
community? Please refer to our discussion above. This is not really an appropriate
question for reviewers.
3. Are connections to other sites essential? If so, do meaningful connections exist, and
can they be maintained? For many or most covered species, and speaking generally, we
can say with confidence that connections to other sites are essential, especially in the long
term and considering the inevitability of environmental change. Some meaningful
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connections certainly exist, but exactly how meaningful needs to be determined by
research. Alternative 3 provides more connectivity than Alternative 2. Whether that
additional connectivity is essential has yet to be established, but the precautionary
principle suggests maintaining existing connections where possible, until the necessary
research has been conducted. As noted elsewhere, connectivity across highways and
other potential barriers could be improved through engineering approaches.
4. Is the site large enough to sustain any keystone species, such as large predators
necessary to maintain essential ecological processes? There is insufficient attention to
large predators (e.g., mountain lion, bobcat, coyote) in the Plan. These are not considered
covered species, for good reason, but could serve as focal species for designing the
reserve network. For these species, no single site is large enough to sustain a population,
so connectivity is the key issue.
5. Are the sites representative of the range of environmental conditions...under which
the species or natural community occurs in a viable population? Insufficient data are
provided to answer this question. As discussed above, a network of conservation areas
well distributed across the Valley would be preferred for this purpose over a design
concentrated in one portion of the Valley.
6. Can necessary physical and ecological processes be maintained? This question is
highly site-specific, and is addressed elsewhere (to the extent possible, given data
limitations) in this report.
7. Is there a significant potential for adverse edge effects from adjacent land uses?
Could these be so severe as to jeopardize the viability of the site? Could these edge
effects be successfully managed? Edge effects are virtually unstudied in the Valley.
Research elsewhere suggests that edge effects could be pervasive, but are manageable to
some extent by such means as constructing “hard edges” (e.g., fences impermeable to
opportunistic predators such as house cats and raccoons) around small isolated reserves,
managing invasive species, and maximizing reserve size generally. In addition to the
probability of biological edge effects, aeolian areas have strong edge effects related to
stability and mobility of sand sheets. In effect, this is a natural edge effect comparable to
that of habitat fragmentation. Because of this, we believe it is better to err on the side of
too much conservation than too little when it comes to the aeolian-dependent species.
8. Is there a significant potential for impacts from deleterious activities on the site,
such as illegal dumping, off road vehicle activity, shooting, or illegal collecting?
Could these be so severe as to jeopardize the viability of the site? Could these edge
effects be successfully managed? As in our response to question #7 (above), these kinds
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of edge effects are probable. Although they have not been studied in the Valley, efforts to
reduce their potential impacts should be taken.
9. Is there a potential for exotic species to adversely impact the site? Could these be so
severe as to jeopardize the viability of the site? Could these edge effects be
successfully managed?
Same response as above.
2. Did the site identification process and development of conservation areas follow a
systematic, stepwise process, including the appropriate use of species models?
Of fundamental concern in any conservation plan is whether the process of identifying sites and
designing conservation areas was systematic and rigorous. Chris Margules and Bob Pressey
(2000, Nature 405:243-253) note that systematic conservation planning is highly superior to
opportunistic or politically-biased planning and has several key attributes: 1) it requires clear
choices about the features to be used as surrogates for overall biodiversity, 2) it is based on
explicit goals, preferably translated into quantitative, operational targets, 3) it recognizes the
extent to which conservation goals have been met in existing reserves, 4) it uses simple, explicit
methods for locating and designing new reserves to complement existing ones in achieving
goals, 5) it applies explicit criteria for implementing conservation action on the ground, and 6) it
adopts explicit objectives and mechanisms for maintaining the conditions within reserves that are
required to foster the persistence of key natural features, together with an effective monitoring
and adaptive management program.
The approach taken in development of the conservation alternatives meets most of the criteria of
systematic conservation planning in a general sense. For example, clear choices were made about
the species and communities to be used as surrogates; the conservation goals are reasonably
explicit; the limitations of the current reserve network are recognized; and the methods and site
selection criteria are fairly explicit. We are concerned, however, that modern, quantitative tools
were not employed to accomplish the required tasks. Hence, the process of site selection was
more subjective and less transparent than it would have been if more rigorous methods had been
applied. For example, there was no use of sophisticated habitat suitability models, PVAs, or site
selection algorithms (e.g., SITES, a program developed by The Nature Conservancy for
ecoregional conservation planning; S. Andelman et al., 1999. SITES V 1.0: an analytical toolbox
for designing ecoregional conservation portfolios, The Nature Conservancy). Rather, selection
of sites was based on GIS overlays and expert opinion. The failure to apply rigorous models
reflects, in large part, the paucity of data on the species and communities concerned.
Nevertheless, we feel that a more technically rigorous and sophisticated site evaluation process
could have been applied and would result in a more defensible Plan. (See our
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response to question #6 in this section, below, and response to question #4 under Species
Modeling.)
The site-identification process involved both scientific and non-scientific analyses. The scientific
analyses are reasonably well documented for most species, but the non-scientific analyses, which
involve issues such as monetary value of property as an inhibition to purchase, and prior land-use
history, are not well documented. These two analyses need to be clearly separated, and the
separation could explain, in part, the reason for the differences between Alternatives 2 and 3 and
make the choice between the two or, alternatively, a hybrid of the two more objective.
The justification for the site-identification process appears in the ARD (p. 65-67). It is somewhat
unusual that this plan uses GIS analysis with definite equations between data layers, yet no
equations are presented in the documentation and the descriptions are somewhat vague. For
example, multipliers are discussed but the final values are not given or referenced in the text. The
“Relative Conservation Value” ranges from 0-25, yet there is no conversion equation given to
combine “Covered Species Richness” (number of target species, ranges 0-31); “Covered Natural
Communities Richness” (number of natural communities, possible range of 1-46 but probably
never greater than 2-5); “Habitat Heterogeneity” (number of natural communities plus landform
types, possible range given as 1 to >10); and “Habitat Fragmentation” (explicitly defined, 0-
100%). It would appear that “Covered Species Richness” is double weighted, the combination of
“Covered Natural Communities Richness” and “Habitat Heterogeneity” represents a double
weight, and “Habitat Fragmentation” is a single weight, but it would be valuable to see this in
equation form, for example:
RCV = f5*(2*f1*CSR + (f2*CNCR+f3*HH) + f4*HF)
where the f’s are conversion factors to obtain the units of RCV. This would help the scientific
credibility of the document as well as provide the more technically inclined audience to
understand the basis for the plan.
The species models appear to be derived from considerable information, both in terms of mapped
habitat information in GIS formats and the long experience and personal observations of the
members of the SAC. As noted in the ARD (p. 64), species such as the ones covered in this
MSHCP are difficult to map because of highly specific habitat requirements (which map require
map units far larger in scale than the quarter section analysis used in the ARD) or the habitat
requirements may only be vaguely known.
Most of the maps depicting current and/or historical distributions of species and the
corresponding habitat model appear to be consistent and credible. For some species, like the
desert slender salamander, the ARD leaves absolutely no doubt what is required for management
of the species. However, some of the credibility of the ARD is damaged by seemingly
incongruous information presented in map form or omissions from the documentation. For the
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Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, all the documentation is presented in the 1985 HCP and
none of the information is repeated, even in summary form in the Technical Appendix. This
needs to be corrected by providing a good summary that references the previous work. The only
real information on this species appears on the map depicting the species distribution model, and
this has semantics problems that beg explicit documentation in the ARD or the Technical
Appendix. For example, distributions pre- and post-1979 appear to be issues on this mapwhy?
If pre-1979 distributions are irrelevant, as appears to be implied by the “Potential Distribution”
model, then why are they included? Should “Potential Distribution” be renamed “Potential
Distribution, Post-1979”? How is it that some “Known Locations, Post-1979” fall outside the
potential distribution? These issues need to be dealt with on the map and in the documentation.
Other maps appear to be contradictory, although that appearance may arise solely from
inadequate documentation or insufficient labels on the maps. For example, for the Yuma Clapper
Rail, at least three “Known Locations” are outside of the “Potential Distribution,” which would
raise questions about the validity of the potential distribution and the expert opinion model on
which it is based. It is possible that those dots hide mapped potential distribution and therefore
cannot be seen at the scale of this map, but that should be explained in the caption. For certain
speciesparticularly the Coachella Valley giant sand treader cricket, the Palm Springs pocket
mouse, the Coachella Valley milk vetch, the Crissal thrasher, the Palm Springs ground squirrel,
the flat-tailed horned lizard, and the Mecca aster -- significant differences are depicted between
“Known Locations,” “Potential Distribution,” and “Core Habitat.” How can a known location be
outside a potential distribution? If this isn’t simply a semantics problem, this needs to be
explained in detail or the credibility of the species model is seriously jeopardized. How is it that
in many cases (see Palm Springs pocket mouse) the number of “Known Locations” is much
higher outside of the “Core Habitat” than inside? Does the “Core Habitat” imply that points are
not depicted within its boundaries because of the number of observations? Some of these maps
show known locations in urban areas—does this mean that these species can adapt to urban
environments and do not require specific areas to be set aside for special habitat management?
For many bird species, the potential migratory areas and potential breeding areas are different
from the observed locations of the species, in some cases with little or no overlap, and this
appears to be a problem. Some species do not have potential distribution models, and, although
this is discussed in the Technical Appendix, it should be noted on the map caption.
As these questions might indicate, the maps leave open alternative interpretations which may
undermine the credibility of the MSHCP. For example, one might interpret the depictions of
some Core Habitats as extremely conservative to the point of potential jeopardy for the species
being managed, and therefore criticize the plan as insufficient to protect that species.
Alternatively, given certain species’ occurrence in highly urbanized areas, one might question
the need for management of those species by setting aside lands or limiting development when
they appear to tolerate existing developments. The point is that the species models appear to
require much more documentation, particularly on the maps and their captions since they are
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separated from the Technical Appendix. Our general conclusion is that the species models are
probably adequate but their documentation falls short. This shortfall affects the perceived
credibility of the plan in general and must be rectified.
Certain non-scientific issues appear to be presented as scientific issues, such as habitat
fragmentation (ARD, p. 66). However, data on fragmentation are never presented in map form to
allow the readers to evaluate for themselves the amount of fragmentation that exists on areas
adjacent to alternative 2 areas, or whether alternative 2 areas themselves are already fragmented.
Also, certain species may not be affected by habitat fragmentation as depicted in the ARD, and
this interaction may be desirable as a way of differentiating habitats as favorable for some
species but unfavorable for others. As discussed during our February 12 meeting, land valuation
had a major influence on exclusion of certain potential habitats from alternative 2. We believe
that some form of land valuation should be depicted in map form for the ARD if this alternative
is to be included.
3. Is thorough documentation provided for the methodology and the data used to identify
Core Habitat areas?
Regarding documentation, please refer to our response to the previous, related question (#2). For
many species, core-habitat areas are not depicted and the reasons appear to be documented in the
Technical Appendix. In general, no documentation of core-habitat delineation for species in
general is presented either in the ARD or the Technical Appendix. As noted under question 2, the
documentation for certain species models with core-habitat areas is inadequate as presented in
map form, which is the only way it is shown in the documentation we were given. In many cases,
the documentation for the methodology and the data used to identify core-habitat areas are
sufficient even in the absence of an overall description of how core areas were delineated,
particularly for a number of bird species. In some very noteworthy cases (e.g., the Coachella
Valley fringe-toed lizard), the methodology and data used are nearly all contained in an old
(1985) habitat conservation plan which may be unavailable to someone reviewing this document.
A summary of this HCP needs to be provided.
Because of the lack of an explicit scientific discussion of delineation of core-habitat areas, one is
left to speculate as to how these areas were delineated. That such speculation is possible, of
course, undermines somewhat the scientific credibility of the MSHCP. One possibility that
explains the discrepancy between mapped Core Habitat and known distributions is that a
political filter, such as cost of land acquisition or known opposition from developers or land
owners, may have been overlain on the known distribution. The core-habitat areas for some
species appear to broadly follow the outlines of known distributions of aeolian sand, particularly
given historical development patterns, and if so, this should be simply stated. As this discussion
indicates, thorough documentation has not been provided concerning the delineation of core-
habitat areas and this problem needs to be rectified.
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4. What are the limitations in the site identification process?
A significant limitation is that the methods (see pages 64-70 of the ARD) fail to recognize that
the 31 focal species have very different spatial and temporal scales at which their population
dynamics play out across the planning area. As such, the ranking criteria used may be
inappropriate for some of the larger species. For many of the 31 species (those where population
dynamics play out a smaller spatial scales), the methods described may be appropriate because
many, if not all of the factors driving viability in the planning area will be driven by local
processes that determine births and deaths within habitats. However, for larger bodied species,
whose population dynamics occur at larger spatial scales, the spatial patterns of how reserves are
configured, the size of the core areas, and the pattern and effectiveness of linkages between these
cores become critical to maintaining viable populations. Thus, for these species, the issue of
reserve design becomes one of dealing with dispersal and other demographic processes within
and between core areas. The methods described on pages 64-67 demonstrate little awareness of
the importance of patch size and configuration on viability for such species.
Another major limitation is the discrepancy between mapped points of “Known Distribution”
versus the “Potential Distribution” outlines derived from GIS analysis. Either 1) very few
observations have been made on many of these species, lowering the information content needed
to depict potential distribution, or 2) not all known distribution points are included on the maps.
As discussed in the Technical Appendix, some of these species have highly specific habitat
preferences that are difficult to plot at the 1/4 section level in map form, much less at the scale
given on the oversize map sheets.
Furthermore, there does not appear to be much if any discussion on adaptive plasticity, where
species may adapt to different habitat conditions if ones they previously occupied are degraded.
In the case of the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, there was some discussion that as active
sand area decreased in natural habitats, the lizards may have switched to habitats created
artificially by berms and a landfill. Other species appear to have adapted already to urban
environments; we suggest the documents should discuss the implications of this potential
adaptation. The site-identification process is in some ways hindered by the assumption that
conditions at the time of the plan are representative of the full adaptation of the species without
consideration of the potential full range in habitat variability.
We are also concerned that the “site identification mapping” methodology (section 3.6.1, pp. 65-
67 of the ARD) is inadequate for conservation of natural communities. Because the Plan is also a
NCCP, not just a MSHCP, adequate representation and conservation measures for natural
communities are essential. As noted on p. 89 of the ARD, natural communities are considered in
the Plan only in terms of providing habitat for covered species. This purpose is obviously
redundant with the accompanying goal of protecting habitat of covered species. Instead, natural
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community conservation might be seen as a coarse filter that complements the fine filter of
species conservation. The coarse filter is predicted to capture species about which little is known
(e.g., poorly surveyed taxa such as many invertebrates, fungi, bryophytes, and bacteria) and
serves to protect a higher level of biological organization—the community or ecosystem—which
may be considered valuable in its own right.
The selection algorithm also may have been applied at an inappropriate spatial scale. Applying
this simplistic algorithm to quarter-sections selects for a fine-grained, as opposed to coarse-
grained, environment. High beta diversity (turnover of species along gradients, as reflected in
“covered species richness,” “covered natural community richness,” and “habitat heterogeneity”)
is selected at the expense of larger, potentially more intact, blocks of particular habitats or
communities. Considerable redundancy exists in these criteria, particularly between natural
community richness and habitat heterogeneity. It would have been preferable to set separate
targets for representation of viable occurrences of each covered species and natural community,
rather than using simple richness criteria.
We suggest the planners refer to The Nature Conservancy’s ecoregional planning materials (e.g.,
C. Groves et al., 2000, Designing a Geography of Hope: A Practitioner’s Guide to Ecoregional
Conservation Planning, 2nd ed.) and consider using more sophisticated selection algorithms (e.g.,
SITES, cited above), which would provide more quantifiable results than the methodology
represented in the Draft Plan. SITES has been used as an aid for designing and analyzing
alternative portfolios in a number of TNC ecoregional plans, including the Northern Gulf of
Mexico, Cook Inlet, Klamath Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Middle Rocky Mountains-Blue
Mountains, Utah-Wyoming Rocky Mountains, and Southern Rocky Mountains ecoregions.
SITES utilizes an algorithm called “simulated annealing with iterative improvement” as a
heuristic method for efficiently selecting regionally representative sets of areas for biodiversity
conservation. It is not guaranteed to find “the best” solution. Nevertheless, the algorithm
attempts to minimize conservation “cost” while maximizing attainment of conservation goals in
a compact set of sites. It has been used effectively in study areas with poorer data availability
than the Coachella Valley.
5. Have information gaps been identified and does each alternative adequately consider
uncertainty in the design of the conservation areas?
When three of us (Noss, Soulé, and Tracy) were empanelled as early reviewers five years ago,
we suggested that alternative reserve designs be set up as a hierarchy along a gradient of
ignorance. Specifically, it can be argued that the highest probability of success in conserving the
species in Coachella Valley is to protect all historic habitat, and the advisors recommended
presentation of many alternative reserve designs including that mentioned above without regard
to the difficulty of implementation. Thus, the designs would be considered on their biological
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basis alone at first, then later within a socio-political context (i.e., a cost screen would be applied
to plan alternatives).
Even a reserve design based upon all historic habitat provides no certainty of success in
preserving the covered species. This is especially the case because habitat is only one element
necessary to protect species from extinctions. For example, noxious exotic species are now
considered the second most important threat to species worldwide, next to loss of habitat. Thus,
protection of habitat needs to be put into a context of the needs to manage species vis-a-vis
manifold needs within the protected habitats.
The drafters of the MSHCP reserve design have, in some cases, not considered the uncertainties
of identified stressors to the covered species. Moreover, as discussed earlier, it appears that
financial and political implementation impediments were folded into the conservation program in
addition to biological requirements. This means that the biological needs of species may have
been considered by the SAC only through the filter of their personal understanding of
implementation constraints which have not been addressed explicitly in the document. As noted
earlier, we detect an implicit concern with the necessity requirement that threatens to overwhelm
the sufficiency requirement. This became particularly obvious in the presentations to our team as
the concepts of new viaducts (e.g., underpasses for wildlife) were discussed as a means to
mitigate the negative effects of roads as barriers. Members of the SAC expressed doubt that such
mitigation was possible, hence their preference for Alternative 2, which considered habitat areas
separated by major roads as essentially permanently isolated. A more precautionary approach
would have left open options for restoring lost connectivity. This in fact may become a viable
alternative if other habitat areas are lost due to political or economic factors.
An important principle in developing reserve designs is to admit ignorance of biological
properties and processes and consider the consequence of that ignorance as alternative designs
are proposed. Our assessment based on the documentation and discussions is that ignorance and
uncertainty have not been considered explicitly in the comparison of any of the alternative
designs.
6. Are adequate buffers provided for conservation, assuming full build-out under each
jurisdiction’s general plan?
There are no buffer zones per se or other transitional areas around reserves identified in the
design alternatives. Any buffer function is implicitly assumed to be provided by the outer zone of
each reserve. Given the well-documented problem of edge effects (physical, biological, human,
etc.), we believe the buffer zone issue should be addressed in the final plan. Evidence from
several studies suggests that agricultural or low-density residential development around reserves
results in less severe edge effects (e.g., nest predation on birds) than when reserves are
surrounded by high-density residential development. This is probably due to higher densities of
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house cats and opportunistic mesopredators, such as raccoons and opossums, subsidized by
garbage and pet food, in high-density residential areas (D. Wilcove, 1985, Ecology 66:1211-
1214; L. Friesen et al., 1995, Conservation Biology 9:1408-1414; R. Blair, 1996, Ecological
Applications 6:506-519). On the other hand, buffers sometimes can be population sinks,
potentially draining a source population in a reserve (R. Noss and A. Cooperrider, 1994, Saving
Nature’s Legacy, Island Press). In such cases it may be preferable to surround a reserve with a
“hard edge,” such as a tall fence, impervious to mesopredators (M. Groom et al., 1999, Pages
171-197 in M. Soulé and J. Terborgh, eds., Continental Conservation, Island Press). We suggest
hard edges may be most appropriate for isolated reserves, where the potential for restoring
connectivity for native species is low but the probability of severe edge effect is high.
7. What are the limitations in the site identification process?
See above (grouped with #2 and #3)
8. Are sufficient data provided to determine the effects of roads on population viability for
target species?
Roads, especially major ones, are assumed in the Draft Plan to represent strong fragmenting
factors. A habitat fragmentation value was assigned to each mapping unit based on the extent of
fragmentation by roads, with roads divided into three categories of width and each road
“buffered” to include an additional area one-half the width of the road on each side. Habitat areas
separated by major roads are generally assumed to be functionally isolated from one another
(although, paradoxically, some of the corridors proposed in the Plan alternatives cross several
major roads). We agree that many studies support the assumption that roads are major threats to
biodiversity. Potential effects of roads include barriers to movement of organisms and sand,
sources of direct mortality (road kill), access to disruptive human activities (e.g., poaching,
collecting, ORV use), and spread of invasive exotic species.
No data are provided, however, on the effects roads may have on the covered species and natural
communities in the Plan Area. Apparently no studies have been conducted. Nor are potential
mitigation measures (e.g., road closures, tunnels, overpasses, fences) considered in any detail.
We recommend that the adaptive management and monitoring plan include research on the
effects of roads. Moreover, we recommend that specific mitigation measures to reduce the likely
impacts of roads be considered in the planning alternatives.
9. Can the target species be grouped into categories that reflect general area requirements
related to viability? What are those categories and general area requirements?
The ability to group species into “conservation guilds” should be taken as a testable hypothesis
to be considered as part of the monitoring and adaptive management program. Possible answers
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to the first question posed above are “yes,” “yes, under certain circumstances,” or even “no.”
However, it is likely that some lumping of species into conservation guilds is possible. This
question needs to be investigated as one of the first implementation programs of the HCP insofar
as it could make considerably more efficacious the management prescriptions in preserved
habitat. It certainly seems that the sand-dependent species may have needs in common allowing
some lumping, but this should be taken as an hypothesis. Whether area requirements alone would
serve as a basis for grouping species into categories is questionable. A more fruitful approach
may be one suggested by R. Lambeck (1997, Conservation Biology 11: 849-856), which is to
group species into vulnerability guilds (e.g., area-limited, dispersal-limited, resource-limited,
process-limited) and then identify the species in each guild that is most demanding. These
species would then serve as potential umbrella species for the others in their guild. This process
would need to be repeated for each major habitat type in the planning area, as well as for the area
as a whole.
Asking “what are the categories and what are the general area requirements?” is outside of the
scope of a peer review. As reviewers, we suggest that planners make an attempt to lump species
based upon hypothesized common needs and vulnerabilities. Outside reviewers could review the
evidence for lumping, but the process of testing the efficacy of lumping should be proposed as an
activity in the adaptive management program of the HCP.
10. Does the prescribed CVWD groundwater management plan provide adequate water table
levels to sustain the target natural communities and species? If not, what additional data
are needed?
Several natural communities that affect the species covered under the MSHCP are strongly
affected by groundwater levels: mesquite hummocks, Sonoran cottonwood-willow riparian
forest, southern arroyo willow riparian forest, southern sycamore-alder riparian woodland,
mesquite bosque, and coastal and valley freshwater marsh. Of these, the freshwater marsh is
probably most strongly affected by agricultural drainage, wastewater effluent, and urban runoff;
those ecosystems used by bird species adjacent to the head of the Salton Sea are more affected
by its water levels than groundwater; and the Sonoran cottonwood-willow riparian forest,
southern arroyo willow riparian forest, southern sycamore-alder riparian woodland, and mesquite
bosque appear to be mostly out of the area of active groundwater management. Therefore, the
natural community type most affected by groundwater withdrawals are mesquite hummocks.
The CVWD water management plan calls for a preferred Alternative 4, which differentially
affects the “Upper Valley” from the “Lower Valley” (division line at approximately
perpendicular to the valley at La Quinta). The distinction between the two areas is that the Upper
Valley is mainly a tourism based economy with water used for urban environments, domestic
and resort usage, and golf courses, whereas the Lower Valley is heavily dominated by
agricultural usage. Alternative 4 calls for elimination of groundwater overdraft throughout the
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basin by importing and recharging water from the Colorado River, eliminating the decline in
groundwater levels in the Upper Valley, increasing groundwater levels in the Lower Valley, and
promoting water conservation. All the alternatives are compared using a groundwater flow
model that excludes the Desert Hot Springs area, which is one of the key areas with respect to
the MSHCP.
Mesquite hummocks are found in two distinct places with regards to groundwater: on or near
active faults, such as the San Andreas, and scattered among stabilized dunes on the valley floor.
The former habitat is not directly addressed by the CVWD plan and may be the most threatened
of the two types owing to pumpage for the rapidly enlarging cities of Desert Hot Springs (which
is not a Permittee), Cathedral City, and Indio. Alternative 4 calls for eliminating the decline in
groundwater in the Upper Valley, which would include most of the mesquite hummock habitat
along the faults, but the modeling may be insufficient to consider flow upslope from the faults.
Despite urbanization upslope from the faults at Desert Hot Springs, the flow model doesn’t cover
this part of the aquifer and therefore the possibility exists that the flow system feeding the
mesquite hummocks in Willow Hole may be neglected in the planning process.
Alternative 4 as stated will likely positively affect the remaining mesquite hummocks scattered
around the floor of the Coachella Valley in the Lower Valley. Although groundwater overdraft
has been extensive, restoration of groundwater levels (as stated in the preferred alternative) could
save these unique habitats and possibly aid many of the target species in the MSHCP.
We suggest that monitoring wells be installed at selected areas in the preserves, ACECs, and
other areas with significant riparian vegetation as a part of the adaptive management plan. These
are relatively cheap and objective ways of evaluating whether or not groundwater levels are
declining and may affect riparian ecosystems.
II. Species Level Questions:
All Species
1. If the conservation areas for sand dependent species are concentrated in the dune
systems north of Interstate 10, will this be sufficient for those species over the long term if
the dune systems south of Interstate 10 are eliminated?
Regarding the sufficiency of the dunes conserved north of I-10 for long-term needs of sand
dependent species, the short answer is not for all species. Although some species have relatively
broad tolerances for temperature and moisture regimes, others have much more narrow
tolerances. For the latter species (especially those unable to fly), it is critical to maintain
landscape linkages to allow them to track the changing limits of their essential habitat
parameters. Historically, the largest contiguous dune system was south of I-10; it linked dune
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habitats in the center of the Valley with sandy habitats and sand sources extending to the western
limits of the Plan Area. This dune system spanned a relatively broad and dynamic gradient of
temperature and moisture conditions, permitting similarly dynamic range adjustments for many
species. The central dune system is now fragmented and can no longer support such species
range adjustments. Dunes north of I-10 are much less extensive and less connected to one-
another; they are also cut off from the remnant southern dunes by I-10 and by the railroad. Thus,
linkages among the dunes north of I-10 are tenuous and the ability of their flightless inhabitants
to track climate-related changes in habitat distribution are impaired. The physical isolation of
dunes north of I-10 makes their sand-dependent inhabitants more vulnerable to extirpation when
climatic or other external conditions change, than would the same species in the southern dune
system prior to its fragmentation
Only one covered plant species is known to occur on the Big Dune south of I-10, the CV
milkvetch. This species occurs in active and stabile sand and has a high probability of persistence
on the Big Dune even though it is no longer geomorphically active. Alternatively, CV milkvetch
distribution is extensive enough elsewhere that it will survive even without protection of Big
Dune.
A more definitive answer to the question proposed here is strongly desirable, but it will require—
as a start—biological surveys of the Big Dune. In the interim, we suggest that the Big Dune be
protected from development. Although it seems certain that the Big Dune is limited on process
(i.e., sand movement), this does not entirely negate its habitat values. Whether or not to include
the Big Dune in the proposed reserve system should be decided on the basis of adequate
biological data. While data may eventually confirm the availability of the Big Dune for
economic development, we believe it should not be eliminated up front simply on the basis of
high land values and little or no biological information.
2. If full build-out were to occur under each jurisdiction’s general plan up to the boundary
of the conservation areas, and 10% of each parcel inside the conservation areas could be
developed, which target species might be affected and how; particularly in areas with
multiple small parcels?
Again, this is a question that peer reviewers cannot answer acceptably. It is impossible to answer
this question without knowledge of the exact pattern and nature of each development project. At
this point in time, data do not exist to understand the mechanisms by which this level of build-
out will affect the Coachella Valley ecosystem. Nevertheless, the notion of 10% build-out on
each parcel inside the conservation areas is one of the most troubling aspects of the Draft Plan. It
is certain to lead to habitat fragmentation within reserves unless the development process can be
intelligently regulated such that habitat destruction is limited to marginal areas. Clustering,
especially on reserve margins rather than centrally, is a much less disruptive pattern of
development than scattered build-out. Roads would increase greatly under a scattered vs. a
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clustered pattern, perhaps to the point that the total surface area occupied by roads constitutes a
substantial loss of habitat reserve-wide. Unfortunately, we do not find a rigorous assessment of
this problem in the Draft Plan.
A number of covered species can be expected to decline unless the 10% build-out allowance is
eliminated or confined to reserve areas with low habitat values. For example, given the probable
increase in a highly subsidized cat population in the vicinity of residential subdivisions, the two
small mammals covered in the Plan (Palm Springs ground squirrel, Palm Springs pocket mouse)
will be negatively affected. Fire frequency also can be expected to increase, with uncertain
effects on covered species. With regard to the covered sand-inhabiting orthopteroid insects
(CVJC, CVG, CVGSC), simply taking out 10% of the habitat on each parcel (e.g. paving over
10%) would probably cause a simple 10% reduction in population size. However, the loss could
be much greater depending on how the land is modified. For example, landscape trees and shrubs
could alter sand deposition, introduce invasive weedy plants, and alter insolation by shading.
This uncertainty might be overcome by implementing strict land use guidelines for landscaping,
such as prohibiting certain invasive species and prohibiting or limiting the height of ornamental
trees and shrubs. It would be helpful if only native plants were used in landscaping.
3. Were area requirements, habitat and connectivity needs and life histories adequately
addressed and documented for each species in the development of conservation areas?
Our general answer to this question is “apparently not,” but we acknowledge that data to
consider area requirements, habitat affinities, and connectivity requirements from the standpoint
of each species’ autecology were sparse. The Draft Plan gave general consideration to
autecological requirements in constructing the species-specific habitat models. Nevertheless, the
Plan should have considered connectivity issues, in particular, more thoroughly. See our
response to question #4 under Species-Specific for some suggestions concerning connectivity.
4. Were appropriate biological parameters and/or landscape features used to estimate a
minimum patch size of suitable habitat for inclusion in the conservation area design for
each species?
This question has two basic components. First, “Were appropriate biological parameters . . . used
to estimate a minimum patch size of suitable habitat for inclusion in the conservation area design
for each species?” Many people use the term “parameter” (meaning a value or state of a variable)
as a synonym for “variable.” Because the context does not help in figuring out which concept
was meant, we assume both were meant. In general, we believe the planners used reasonable
factors (variables) in the conservation area design. In many cases, of course, data were not
available, so surrogate variables were used. We are impressed by the knowledge and skill of the
biologists working on this project (i.e., the SAC) and have no reason to doubt that reasonable
(best available) variables were used.
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With regard to “parameter” selection, the models used to determine suitable habitat for the
various covered species are not formal population viability (PVA) models (see our response to
Species Modeling questions); in other words, they do not involve the use of precise parameter
estimation and testing. Therefore, although this question is interesting, it is not relevant at this
stage. It might become relevant, however, as time goes by and PVAs are carried out as part of
implementation, monitoring, and adaptive management.
Second, “Were appropriate . . . landscape features used to estimate a minimum patch size of
suitable habitat for inclusion in the conservation area design for each species?In most cases,
this question is the same as the question above assuming that “landscape variables” and
“variable” mean the same thing. Where adequate knowledge of particular species is available, we
support the choice of landscape variables used in the models.
The more important issue, perhaps, is that of “minimum patch size.” We assume that the
questioner has in mind some minimum (critical) area necessary for the persistence of the species
population over a reasonable length of time. It is impossible, however, to engage in a serious
discussion of this question unless the issues of “how long” and “probability of persistence” are
specified for each covered species individually. To do this, of course, requires many years of
demographic information and a formal PVA. At best, these data are available for one or two
species, so the question, on its face, could be described as academic.
To be fair, however, we should address the underlying issue, which is “does the minimum patch
size (or overall area protected) for each covered species make sense based on the intuition of
conservation biologists?” Unfortunately, though, even this question requires some information
about the annual variability of the relevant ecological variables, knowledge of existing or
potential edge effects, consideration of demographic stochasticity, degree of connectivity for
each species, etc. For example, a small patch that can sustain a mean population of 10
individuals of an animals species with an average lifetime movement distance from the natal site
of 300 meters and located several kilometers from other patches would fail to pass the “laugh
test.” On the other hand, such a patch located between 200 and 400 meters from a larger site
might constitute a reasonable conservation site in a metapopulation model, assuming there were
no impassable barriers to dispersal.
As noted elsewhere, we are concerned that the suite of potential reserves in Alternative 2 is
potentially insufficient from a biological standpoint. Yet how much of Alternative 3 is beyond
the necessary amount of habitat to sustain the covered species and natural communities is highly
uncertain, largely because of data limitations. Most importantly, the question of how much
habitat is needed cannot be answered without considering details of management. Hence the
importance of having an adequate adaptive management plan. Without ecological management,
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much larger areas of habitat are usually necessary to sustain a suite of target species. Conversely,
smaller areas can be adequate given sufficient management.
Insufficiency is an almost inevitable result of considering non-biological factors, such as cost of
purchasing private property, in the initial selection of conservation areas. If one were less
concerned with land costs and availability, it would be prudent and ethical to give the benefit of
the doubt to the species—to employ the precautionary principle with regard to rejecting possible
sites. This is particularly reasonable when little is known about the critical factors that determine
long-term persistence, which is generally the case for the covered species in the Coachella
Valley. Certainly non-biological factors, such as economics, must inform the final selection of
conservation areas and the mechanisms by which these areas are protected and managed. Our
concern is that when economic and political factors are brought into consideration early in the
design and planning process, they constrain biological options and make the choice of
conservation areas less defensible scientifically. As we have stated earlier, it may be that the
final plan must balance the economic and political feasibility of some of the proposed biological
conservation areas with their necessity as protected areas. But to make that judgment at the
selection stage, particularly in the absence of documentation about what those non-biological
factors are, undermines the defensibility of the proposed conservation program.
To the best of our knowledge, the best available information was used to determine the habitat
needs of the covered insect species. Unfortunately, there are no definitive values for minimum
habitat patch size for any of these species. Furthermore, the rapid pace of habitat conversion to
other uses, together with habitat fragmentation and other environmental changes, does not permit
an accurate assessment of long-term effects on species viability with respect to habitat patch size.
This information can only come from future studies. This is why an effective adaptive
management plan is so important.
5. Are the data provided on the habitat requirements and ecology of narrowly distributed
endemics sufficient to design conservation alternatives and management methods?
This question has two parts. First, one must understand what a “narrowly distributed endemic
is. Second, one must decide if the understanding of these species’ life histories, population
dynamics, and habitat requirements is sufficient to design conservation alternatives.
Based on species descriptions in the Technical Appendix, the following species are found only in
Coachella Valley and might be considered narrowly distributed endemics: CV Jerusalem cricket,
Casey’s June beetle, Coachella Valley giant sand-treader cricket, triple-ribbed milkvetch, and the
CV fringe-toed lizard. Additional species are found primarily in the planning area, with some
populations located outside: CV milkvetch, little San Bernardino Mountains linanthus, Mecca
aster, Orocopia sage, Palm Springs ground Squirrel, and the Palm Springs pocket mouse.
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In general, knowledge of the above species consists primarily of distributional data and perhaps
estimates of abundance in each location. (Obviously, the level of information varies across
species, with the perhaps the best data being available for the Fringe-toed lizard.) Virtually
nothing is known about the demographic or genetic patterns and processes in most of these
species. Thus, designing conservation alternatives for these species cannot, at present, be based
on high quality, rigorously collected data.
Specifically, understanding how alternatives 2 and 3 will differentially change the ability of the
Plan to conserve viable populations of the above species is fraught with high levels of
uncertainty. The primary method of comparison is to overlay Alternatives 2 and 3 on the
predicted distribution for each species and determine which alternative covers a sufficient
amount of the predicted distribution for each species.
There are a number of reasons why this method may contain substantial error. First, the predicted
species distribution maps may not be correct. In rare cases, so little is known about a species that
a predicted distribution was not created (i.e. Jerusalem cricket). In cases where the species
distributions were predicted using GIS overlays, there is no information regarding the validity of
these distributions. Validation could be achieved by surveying randomly selected locations
within and outside the predicted distribution of each species, then determining how frequently
the GIS model correctly classified a location in terms of presence or absence.
Second, errors of omission could lead to substantial uncertainty when designing or choosing
between alternatives. The current comparative method does not include information regarding
how population dynamics and genetic structure will interact with each of the alternatives to
determine overall viability of the narrow endemics. This is not a fault of the SAC, but merely a
limitation of the data available. Nevertheless, the simplistic methods used create uncertainty in
the design and selection process that should be acknowledged.
Species-Specific
1. Is it critical to maintain the habitat at the east end of the Indio Hills to sustain
populations of the Palm Springs ground squirrel and the Palm Springs pocket mouse
rangewide?
Information provided on the biology of this species and the spatial configuration of the Plan is
not adequate to answer this question with a high level of certainty. The ability of the Plan (or any
given alternative) to cover the squirrel will depend on the interaction between the spatial ecology
of the squirrel (i.e. how population dynamics occur across space) and the final spatial
configuration of the Plan. The following types of information would increase our ability to
understand how habitat in the east end of Indio Hills affects the ability of an alternative to sustain
the squirrel:
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A) Higher quality distribution maps. Currently, the distribution map for this species
consists of 103 locations across a predicted 103,207 acres, or 1 point per 1,000
acres. Data on habitat requirements consists of descriptions of habitats in which
the species was found. Detailed, longer-term studies of spatial variation in
density, reproductive success, survivorship, and other demographic parameters
across habitat gradients are lacking. Thus, there is the potential for error in the
identification of the Core Habitat for this species.
B) Understanding how the species responds to habitat fragmentation. Given the
relatively low density of this species reported in the technical appendix, large
areas may be required to maintain viable populations within any given area of the
Plan. How habitat fragmentation, including low levels of development within
conservation areas, affects population dynamics and dispersal is critical to
understanding the contribution of habitat east of Indio Hills toward overall
viability.
C) Factors regulating population size. Generalizing points 1 and 2 above, little is
known about the factors that regulate population size in this species. Preferred
habitat seems somewhat identifiable, but having a detailed understanding of those
factors influencing density at a given locality would increase our ability to
identify suitable habitat and determine management strategies.
D) The dispersal ability of the species/historic patterns of gene flow. One argument
against including habitat east of Indio hills in the Plan is that it represents a
disjunctive population and hence adds little to the overall population throughout
the reserve. However, we know nothing about the dispersal biology of this
species, average dispersal distances and how connected populations were prior to
the current urbanization of the Valley. Given such a dearth of information, we do
not know if populations in eastern part of the reserve were always disjunctive
from more western populations or were recently isolated. Indeed, we do not know
if the habitat connections between the core areas found in both alternatives in the
western part of the reserve are even necessary to maintain demographically
critical dispersal or gene flow.
Understanding the dispersal biology of the species would allow one to understand
the spatial distances at which populations of ground squirrels become
demographically isolated and what habitat types make corridors functional for this
species. In addition, many small mammal species show sex and age biases in
dispersal. This information may be critical in designing translocation programs, if
they are needed. Genetic data would greatly assist the decision making process by
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describing the historic patterns of gene flow, and hence historic connections
between populations, prior to urbanization. This information would improve
substantially the identification of core areas and critical habitat linkages. In
addition, the data would be useful in adaptive management because they may
suggest specific translocation scenarios in situations where creating or
maintaining habitat corridors is impossible.
E) A better understanding of how build-out will take place within the planning area.
Despite the focus on Alternatives 2 and 3, both represent general “outlines” of the
ultimate hard boundaries of the Plan. Particular pieces of land designated as
reserve in the Alternatives may be considered critical for development by
stakeholders or too expensive to add to public ownership. As such, we cannot be
certain of the final spatial configuration of the plan or the densities of
urbanization in particular areas of build-out. Hence, the east end of Indio Hills
may end up supporting a key population(s) of the squirrel depending on how areas
to west are ultimately delineated during the negotiation process between
stakeholders and the wildlife agencies.
2. Is the proposed corridor between the east end of the Indio Hills and Dos Palmas
sufficient to maintain potential for demographic interchange for the Palm Springs ground
squirrel and the Palm Springs pocket mouse?
In short, there is insufficient information to answer this question. The data needed to answer this
question are described in the response to the previous question regarding the dispersal ability of
the species and historic patterns of gene flow.
Nevertheless, given the large distances involved and documented dispersal distances of similarly
sized small mammals, it is unlikely that populations separated by the distances between Indio
Hills and Dos Palmas were ever “demographically” connected in the sense that dispersal from
Indio Hills populations had regular (annual or within a generation), demographic impacts on
populations in Dos Palmas or vice-versa. Metapopulation-like colonization events probably took
place between the two areas in the past (or even now), which would have connected the
populations genetically as multiple generations of dispersing individuals moved genes between
the areas, but there is no evidence of such connection.
3. Is a linkage between Willow Hole and the upper Mission Creek necessary for the long
term persistence of the Palm Springs pocket mouse?
This question boils down to whether or not the different levels of connection between Willow
Hole and Upper Mission Creek proposed in the alternatives will differentially impact the long-
term persistence of the pocket mouse. There are two critical biological issues that must be
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resolved to answer the question. The first is basically the question asked of the review panel, is
immigration between the populations on either side of the proposed corridor necessary for
persistence? However, another question is critical as well: Will the corridor function differently
(or at all) under the two alternatives?
Insufficient data exists to answer either question adequately. The following types of information
would help determine the role of immigration to overall persistence.
A) The population demography of pocket mice. If populations show large
fluctuations in numbers and local extinctions, then immigration between locations
will become critical for recolonizing sites. If populations are more stable and
rarely go extinct, immigration between sites is demographically less important.
What role immigration plays in overall population persistence in this species is
not known.
B) Estimates of gene flow between pocket mouse populations on either side of the
proposed corridor. If these populations are genetically distinct with little gene
flow, then historical immigration between the populations was rare. In this case,
immigration may not be critical to long-term persistence. The alternative is that
the populations are genetically indistinguishable and gene flow did occur.
Analyses using mitochondrial DNA would be appropriate given the distances
between populations.
In order to determine the difference between the two alternatives in their ability to promote
movement of pocket mice between populations, information is needed on the spatial distribution
of pocket mice in the area. If pocket mice are found in the two drainage canals, then it may be
possible that they would continue to use these features in the future. This assumes that use of the
drainages by pocket mice will not change as development takes place or if the design of the
drainages is altered. Detailed demographic studies in these canals could determine if they are
used for dispersal (short persistence times and no reproductive activity), or actually support
populations of mice (longer persistence times, newly weaned offspring occurring seasonally,
reproductive activity).
If surveys indicate the mouse is found in the contested area (i.e. Alt. 3), but not in the drainage
systems (Alt. 2), then Alternative 3 would be preferred, assuming additional build-out of the
current low density urbanization in the Alt. 3 area does not continue.
It is obviously desirable to maintain suitable habitat wherever possible. The area in question,
however, already is partially developed and disturbed and could even be (or shortly become) a
demographic sink for this species. Moreover, there is an approved specific plan for development
in the future. This raises many questions. Would restrictions on off-road-vehicle use in the area
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be reasonable, practical, and beneficial? Also, given increasing density of housing and the vast
increase in subsidized house cats that this implies, is survival of the mouse likely in this area?
(Even low-density housing in the area could restrict opportunities for the survival of a viable
population.) Would it be possible to design and protect a linkage zone connecting these two
localities? Would fencing of such a linkage keep out cats and human recreational use that would
compromise the biological utility of the linkage?
Ultimately, whether or not a linkage between Willow Hole and Upper Mission Creek is needed is
unknown given all the uncertainties of current and future distribution of the mouse, not to
mention the absence of reasonably good PVA for the species; such a PVA is probably not a
realistic expectation given the level of information now available. If funding were to become
available, however, such a PVA should be performed. Because the mouse is known to exist at
several localities between Willow Hole and the Salton Sea along the eastern side of the
Coachella Valley (a distance of about 50 miles), a barrier to movement between Willow Hole
and Upper Mission Creek is not likely to jeopardize persistence during the next century or so,
depending, of course, on the development pattern in the planning area as a whole.
4. Have adequate connections been maintained within the Plan Area and to populations
outside of the Plan Area for target species?
Connectivity for genetic exchange and to assure repopulation of depleted populations (the
“rescue effect”) are important features of any conservation plan. Although an argument has been
made (for example, by Dan Simberloff and colleagues) that corridors without proven values for
species are ill-considered, this suggestion poses a high risk of Type II error. Natural landscapes
are fundamentally connected, but this connectivity is often broken by human activities.
Conservation strategies do not attempt to create corridors between habitats that were naturally
isolated, but rather to maintain, and where possible restore, natural connections (R. Noss, 1987,
Conservation Biology 1:159-164). The precautionary principle suggests that the appropriate null
hypothesis is that severing natural connections has no ill effects on biodiversity. Accepting this
null hypothesis, if it is incorrect, would have serious consequences. Hence, the burden of proof
should be placed on those who would reduce natural levels of connectivity (P. Beier and R.
Noss, 1998, Conservation Biology 12:1241-1252). Again, we urge more consideration to
assuring sufficiency and less to proving necessity.
The Coachella Valley Plan has one major connection across the Valley in the north, crossing Rt.
111, I-10, and Dillon Road. It consists of Alternative 2 and 3 patches. In some areas Alternative
2 forms a narrow corridor, and addition of Alternative 3 lands would increase the width and
possibly the security of the corridor. Target animals such as desert bighorn sheep may not
necessarily use this corridor, as they usually will not cross highways, but the corridor may
provide connectivity for other large mammals not covered by the Plan, as well as potentially
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many smaller-bodied animals, especially if modifications of roads (wildlife crossings) can be
made.
A second potential major connection not addressed in the Plan is the Whitewater River channel.
It runs east-west across the Valley through Palm Desert and Indio, then south to the Salton Sea.
It is not currently a viable connector for many species, as it has been channelized. However, it is
not fenced, and might be a connection for species not highly sensitive to urbanization such as
coyotes. Coyotes, in turn, can help maintain populations of native birds through their top-down
regulation of opportunistic mesopredators (K. Crooks and M. Soulé, 1999, Nature 400:563-566).
The possibility of preserving lands to increase animal movement via the Whitewater River
should be pursued, as well as potential restoration of the river channel that might make it a
corridor for additional animal species. A north-south linkage could be restored by stopping
dredging and clearing the Whitewater River upstream from its juncture with the San Gorgonio
River and the triangular area were added, as proposed under Alternative 3.
Other potential wildlife corridors running east-west through the Valley are railroad and highway
rights-of-way, which might also be restored. Furthermore, canals are likely barriers to movement
of a number of species. Land bridge (i.e., running the canal below ground) in strategic places
could significantly reduce the barrier effects. The potential of these options to improve
connectivity for covered and uncovered species should be addressed in the Plan.
A third major connection across the Valley is on the north end of the Salton Sea. This is
currently mapped as agricultural, but salinization is increasingly causing abandonment of
farmland adjacent to the sea. Native saltbush and exotic tamarisk are colonizing this land. Even
though it is not pristine habitat, it may be a useful dispersal corridor. Although much of the land
in this area is Indian-owned and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Plan, other lands that are
not yet developed should be considered in the Plan. Again, restoration is a major issue in
considering these lands.
Several additional smaller-scale connections occur in the Valley. The unexpected development
plans between Dillon road and Joshua Tree National Park need to be countered by preservation
of additional adjacent lands to improve connectivity to the Park. Desert washes should be
preserved as corridors where they may provide for animal movement, for instance in the
Alternative 3 lands on the northeast of the Salton Sea. The “sand channels” north of I-10 may
also be corridors for animal movement, especially if the adjacent lands are not developed any
more densely than at present.
We emphasize, again, that while a corridor is often a hypothesis rather than proven fact, the
option for keeping corridors should not be closed until the function of the purported corridor is
known. Corridors may be especially important for movement of organisms during times of
environmental stress. Global change may bring warmer temperatures and possibly higher rainfall
to the Coachella Valley, and may necessitate animal dispersal as natural habitats change. The
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future of vegetation change in the Coachella Valley is uncertain, but allowing natural movement
is one way to allow organisms to search out suitable habitat. Maintaining as much connectivity
as possible is a safeguard against future extinctions.
Species that require connectivity at very broad spatial scales in the planning area include large
mammals that are not covered by the plan (e.g., mountain lion). Bighorn sheep are thought not to
move across freeway underpasses, so the opportunity for movement of this species may already
be lost. (On the other hand, it is not unlikely that very wide underpasses, or better yet, land
bridges, would be used for movement.) Historically genetic exchange occurred mainly when
individual rams would move between populations, as has been documented for Rocky Mountain
bighorn sheep. The existing and potential corridors outlined in our response to the previous
question will be more useful to vagile non-target mammals, mainly predators.
In the event of climate change, it is almost certain that some populations of species dependent on
narrow environmental parameters will dwindle in size and may be extirpated, while others may
flourish. Populations of flightless sand-dependent organisms are now largely fragmented by
transportation corridors and other anthropogenic habitat alteration activities which have carved
up the once-contiguous large dune systems. To a large extent species persistence will depend on
whether habitat linkages to potential refugia are maintained. The insect most likely to be
adversely affected is Casey’s June beetle. Because the females are flightless, this species cannot
adjust its range rapidly. This species is already essentially locked into a few small enclaves
surrounded by urban barriers to dispersal.
Connections between the Coachella Valley planning area and other landscapes are potentially
important for several species. Again, adequate data are lacking, but a precautionary approach
dictates conservation of existing linkages. Species in this category include large mammals (e.g.,
bighorn sheep and such uncovered species as mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, and kit fox), the
desert tortoise, and the CV milk vetch, little San Bernardino Mountains linanthus, Mecca aster,
Orocopia sage, Palm Springs ground squirrel, and Palm Springs pocket mouse. Research is
needed on the dispersal behaviors of these species in order to identify plausible corridors.
III. Habitat Monitoring and Management Questions.
1. What basic principles and testable hypotheses for monitoring and adaptive management
would be appropriate in the Plan Area? Are these included in the proposed management
program?
Please refer to Appendix B for a summary of what our team feels a defensible science-based
adaptive management program might look like. The current proposal for monitoring and
adaptive management in the Coachella Valley MSHCP is based entirely upon a one-species-at-a-
time process, which we do not believe is the most efficient or auspicious approach. The Adaptive
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Management and Monitoring Program document we reviewed is confusing and statistically
difficult to defend. Moreover, it is probably not an optimal use of the limited funds likely
available for management.
The essence of the currently proposed program consists of gathering count data on various
species while simultaneously measuring a host of independent, potentially explanatory variables,
then using multivariate analyses to partition the variation in numbers of individuals across the
suite of explanatory variables. Unfortunately, the population dynamics of desert species are
typically so dramatic and precipitous (in response to natural fluctuations in the environment) that
it is nearly impossible discern anthropogenic causes of change. Hence, the data derived from a
monitoring program of this sort is unlikely to provide information to managers that will be useful
for adaptive management, that is, for changing management practices to better serve the goals of
the conservation plan.
The proposed Coachella Valley monitoring program suggests using a less volatile measure of
populations such as reproductive output. However, this method has been hypothesized to work
for fringed-toed lizards only because there are 1.5 decades of data upon which the approach has
been evaluated. The method would be much less appropriate for other covered species in the
HCP, for which data are considerably more limited. Considering each covered species
individually also has considerable drawbacks (R. Noss, M. O’Connell, and D. Murphy, 1997,
The Science of Conservation Planning, Island Press). As discussed earlier, a more promising
approach would be to classify species into conservation guilds (for example, vulnerability guilds
or habitat guilds). In such an approach, similarities in habitat affinities, life histories, and
responses to habitat alteration and management would need to be identified quantitatively
enough that the wildlife agencies would be convinced that conservation of some species, through
habitat protection and management, will also conserve other species in the covered list.
The most promising kind of monitoring currently proposed for the CV-MSHCP appears to be
that used to assess the extent of various kinds of sand using digital IR and GIS. For some species,
this method measures the extent, and potentially the fragmentation, of suitable habitat. Hence,
this approach could be used to assess trends in habitat patterns quickly and effectively. We
suggest that this approach be pursued at the initiation of the adaptive management program.
At the very least, the monitoring and adaptive management program should develop process
models of how the systems work. Validation monitoring (see Appendix B) should be an
important aspect of the program from the outset. It will be necessary to establish a record of
implementation of management prescriptions and devise a plan to assess the efficacy of those
prescriptions. This requires hypothesis testing and validation research as well as effectiveness
monitoring.
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We recommend using Appendix B as a template of how to structure a monitoring and adaptive
management program in the Coachella Valley. Furthermore, two issues not directly addressed by
the Plan, but which will affect future management, are global warming and air pollution. In
addition to becoming warmer in response to elevated CO2, the Southern California deserts will
receive more moisture under one global warming scenario (R. Nielson, 1998, Pp. 439-456 in R.
Watson et al., eds. The Regional Impacts of Climate Change. An Assessment of Vulnerability.
Special Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II. Cambridge
University Press). The net impact to flora and fauna is impossible to predict, but monitoring is
needed to detect vegetation change. Invasions of exotic plant and animal species are occurring
rapidly and may be exacerbated by climate change. Exotic Bromus rubens responds to elevated
CO2 by increased growth more than native species, which may in part explain its increasing
abundance in recent decades (Smith et al. 2000, Nature 408:79-82.). The monitoring in this Plan
will not detect the causes of vegetation change, but will point to the need for research to
determine the causes of plant and animal invasions.
Air pollution is of increasing concern in the desert as coastal urban areas grow and as local
growth in the desert creates its own air pollution. The main concerns for vegetation are nitrogen
oxides and ozone that originate from automobile exhaust. Ozone levels are likely not high
enough to cause acute physiological damage in vegetation, although effects of long-term, low
levels are more difficult to predict (E. Allen et al., in press, Air Pollution and Vegetation Change
in Southern California Shrublands. Proceedings of the Symposium on “Planning for
Biodiversity: Bringing Research and Management Together” Feb. 29-Mar. 3, 2000). Nitrate
deposits on plant and soil surfaces and accumulates in the soil, unlike ozone, which dissipates.
The Coachella Valley may also experience ammonium deposition from agricultural fertilization
and possibly emissions from the Salton Sea. Nitrogen deposition is known to cause vegetation
change in ecosystem types globally. It may enhance invasions of exotic species by differentially
increasing their productivity compared to native species. There is evidence for this in Southern
California coastal sage scrub (E. Allen et al., 1998, Proceedings of the International Symposium
on Air Pollution and Climate Change Effects on Forest Ecosystems, Riverside, CA February 5-9,
1996; E. Allen et al., in press, Ibid).
Nitrogen fertilization in the desert caused an increase in the exotics Mediterranean split grass and
storksbill* (M. Brooks, 1998, Ecology of a Biological Invasion: Alien Annual Plants in the
Mojave Desert. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Riverside; M. Brooks, 2000,
American Midland Naturalist 144:92-108). Increased productivity is expected only in wet years,
which may be followed by fire in the next dry season. Thus nitrogen deposition may be
enhancing the fire cycle, which was previously virtually unknown in the desert. Remote sensing
methods need to be calibrated to detect these invasions. The intensive density counts of exotics
proposed in the monitoring plan are probably not required. Air pollution is monitored by the
California Air Quality Management District in stations in Palm Springs, Indio, Joshua Tree NP,
and other desert locations (http://www.arb.ca.gov/aqd/namslams/map_all.pdf), so data will be
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readily available to local land managers. Again, the cause of vegetation change is a research
question. Nevertheless, nitrogen deposition and global change should be listed in the models as
potential drivers of weed invasion, along with fragmentation and land disturbance.
*Mediterranean split grass (Schismus barbatus) and storksbill (Erodium spp.) are not listed in the
text as two of the major invasive species. As they increase, they may be responsible for a
decrease in native plant species richness.
2. What management actions can be taken to minimize the impacts of roads on species and
habitats?
This topic is essentially unexplored in the Draft Plan. As noted earlier, the Plan implicitly
assumes that the barrier and other effects of roads cannot be modified to reduce their impacts.
Experience in many regions, however, has demonstrated that wildlife crossings, ranging from
culverts to overpasses to land bridges, can be effective in reducing the barrier effects of roads, as
well as roadkill. Responses are highly species-specific, however, so mitigation measures must be
carefully tailored to the species in question (e.g., V. Keller and H. Pfister, 1997, Pp. 70-80 in K.
Canters, ed. Habitat Fragmentation and Infrastructure; A. Clevenger and N. Waltho, 2000,
Conservation Biology 14:47-56). We recommend that this topic receive increased attention in the
final draft of the Plan.
Insofar as ground-dwelling sand-dependent arthropods are concerned, minimizing the number of
roads would have a salutary effect. Where roads cannot be avoided it may be better to pave them
than to leave them unpaved. At least some ground-dwelling beetles avoid non-habitat substrates.
Thus, a hard paved surface could create a minor barrier to such insects while a soil-surface road
might not. The benefit of the former depends on how frequently the road is traveled. Frequent
traffic on an unpaved road might cause more road-kills than on a paved road. This hypothesis has
been tested in Europe but needs confirmation with regard to the local fauna and habitat
conditions.
3. As part of the monitoring program, is a set, quantitative Trigger Number the best method
to detect declines in populations and to initiate management responses, or can
deleterious trends be separated from expected fluctuations to more accurately trigger a
management response?
This issue is addressed in Appendix B. Although some form of monitoring to provide a measure
of a species population status over time is often desirable, it is often not possible to set any
particular trigger number to initiate management responses. This is especially true for short-lived
species, such as annual plants and most insects. Normal annual or seasonal fluctuations in
populations of such short-lived organisms usually cannot be distinguished from declines based
on habitat degradation. Instead, management decisions should be based on other measurable
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factors, such as changes in sand deposition patterns and habitat invasion by exotic weedy plants
and animals. For long-lived plants and animals (e.g. desert bighorn sheep, Orocopia sage), real
deleterious trends in population size are more easily detected and a quantitative trigger might be
appropriate to initiate corrective management practices. Nevertheless, trends analysis can often
be more useful than the setting of simplistic management thresholds.
Regarding the Coachella Valley giant sand-treader cricket and Coachella Valley Jerusalem
cricket, population monitoring, if desired, can be accomplished by oatmeal baiting as an
alternative to pit-fall trapping. The use of oatmeal bait trails for surveying crickets of many types
is commonplace and can be superior to pit-fall trapping. The oatmeal bait method generally
produces quicker results with greater probability of locating crickets during a given evening
(when they are active) than does pit-fall trapping. The bait survey also eliminates the possibility
of unwanted cricket mortality; they desiccate rapidly and are also more prone to predation if
rodents or scorpions end up with them in the pit-fall trap. The main drawback to oatmeal
trapping is that it requires intensive labor.
IV. Geomorphology:
In general, the four questions posed here are too specific for the advisory committee to respond
to in a quantitative fashion, as is implied by the specifics of the questions. For the most part,
these are questions to guide future research, not questions for peer reviewers. Nevertheless, we
offer preliminary responses to these questions below.
1. What is the relative contribution of sediment from each canyon in the Little San
Bernardino Mountains to the Thousand Palms dune system?
This is a question that would require a research project to answer accurately, but a rough
estimation could be gleaned from sediment-yield estimation techniques developed from other
desert regions. There are numerous ways for estimating fluvial sediment yield, separated in part
by approach. Some methods are purely empirical, fitting statistical functions (typically power
functions) to empirical data (K. Renard, 1972, Sediment problems in the arid and semi-arid
southwest, in Proceedings, 27th Annual Meeting, Soil Conservation Society of America:
Portland, Oregon, p. 225-232). Other approaches include more-intensive statistical modeling (E.
Flaxman,1972, Predicting sediment yield in Western United States, Journal of the Hydraulics
Division, Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers, HY 12, p. 2073-2085) and
deterministic sediment-yield models that are highly data intensive (e.g., J. Gilley et al., 1988,
USDA Water erosion prediction project. Symposium proceedings, pub. 07-88). In the Coachella
Valley, where little sediment data has been collected, the best technique is to apply an empirical
function from another region. For example, from the Colorado Plateau, one estimator is of the
form:
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Qs = 193 . A1.04
where Qs = sediment yield (Mg/yr) and A = drainage area (km2) (R. Webb et al., 2000,
Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 00-4055, 67 p.). The point is that
sediment yield generally is a strong power function of drainage area, although often the relation
is nearly linear (exponent about equal to 1). Therefore, sediment yield (and therefore the
sediment contribution) can be estimated primarily from the drainage area. Several canyons then
become important, particularly Long Canyon upslope from Desert Hot Springs and Fan Hill
Canyon, upslope from Thousand Palms Canyon. West Wide and East Wide Canyons are blocked
by a dike that effectively removes sediment from floodwaters, eliminating these canyons as
sediment sources.
At this time, canyons from the Little San Bernardino Mountains and the Indio Hills are the only
significant sources of sediment available for aeolian entrainment and transport. The significance
of the sediment yield from these canyons is better evaluated in terms of areas of deposition,
which generally are higher on the alluvial fans of Seven Palms Valley and Fun Valley than
would be useful for aeolian replenishment of the Thousand Palms Preserve. The major sand
source for this preserve was once the Whitewater River system (including Mission Creek and
Morongo Wash), but freeway and railroad construction have effectively eliminated this source
except during extremely high windstorms.
From a casual examination, it would appear that the Thousand Palms dune system receives sand
in several ways: 1) direct sand input from Whitewater River system (now closed off); 2) direct
sand input from drainages of the Little San Bernardino Mountains and the Indio Hills (partial
closure owing to development of depositional plains); 3) indirect sand input from fluvial sand
originating in the Whitewater River system, mobilized into aeolian sand, deposited in the Indio
Hills, remobilized in the fluvial system of the Indio Hills, deposited upwind from Thousand
Palms Canyon, and mobilized into aeolian sand (see 2); and 4) aeolian sand from Mission Creek,
Morongo Wash, and other small valleys north of the Indio Hills that is mobilized into aeolian
sand, crosses the divide between Seven Palms Valley to Fun Valley, is mobilized in the
distributary flow system on the alluvial fans, and is aeolian entrained and transported into the
Thousand Palms Preserve (disrupted by development). Historically, the Whitewater River system
was probably the most important source. Now, it would appear that the most important sources
are from the Indio Hills and Fun Valley.
2. Is the sand transport system to the east end of the Indio Hills intact? How does
agricultural development affect the sand transport system in that area? To what extent
did the developed areas on the south side of the Indio Hills provide sand to the east end
historically?
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As mentioned in response to question #1, above, historically the major source of aeolian sands to
the east end of the Indio Hills probably was the Whitewater River system. This source is
completely cut off with the exception of sand recycled from the Indio Hills or transported
directly during rare, extreme windstorms. Agricultural development will impede the sand
transport system in that area or any area upwind of aeolian dunes in the Coachella Valley. The
developed areas on the south side of the Indio Hills probably provided little sand but instead
were minor fluvial deposition areas from drainages emanating from the Indio Hills. Instead, the
major function of this area probably was as an aeolian transport zone where sand originating
from the Whitewater River system moved across an aeolian plain and into the Thousand Palms
dune system. Freeway and railroad construction have effectively ended this source, so those
developed lands probably would have little influence on the aeolian dunes in the Thousand
Palms Preserve.
3. Does the Willis Palms drainage supply sediment to the Thousand Palms sand corridor?
This question is too specific given the overall context of the MSHCP; the Willis Palms drainage
does not appear on any maps and does not appear to be mentioned in the ARD. However, SAC
members have told us the canyon is on the southeast corner of the Indio Hills and deposits fluvial
sediments just upwind from the Thousand Palms Preserve. Therefore, it likely is a significant
source of aeolian sands for this preserve, given the closure of other major historical sources.
4. How stable are the dunes south of Interstate 10, even if sand sources are reduced or
eliminated?
The stability of dunes may be evaluated on several levels. The dunes themselves appear to be
very stable, unlike the unidirectional sand-transport systems that characterize the sources for the
Whitewater River and Thousand Palms preserves. These dunes appear to be stopped from east-
southeastward movement owing to the presence of railroad and freeway berms. Unlike other
dune systems in the vicinity, some perennial vegetation has colonized these dunes, further
causing stability. However, within the area of dunes, active sand movement is undoubtedly
occurring, which potentially creates habitat for both animals that simply require aeolian sand as
well as animals that require active, loose aeolian sand.
The stability of Big Dune is unknown in geomorphic terms, with the exception of information
from Lancaster (1993). Stability has two connotations: whether the dune has an active surface
layer, which may promote some endemic animals and plants, or whether the sand supply has
been cut off. The answer to the latter question is a decided yes. As to the former question,
deflation of the dune with no addition of sand may continue to provide habitat for some
endemics, particularly insects, and therefore this habitat should not be discarded without
significant consideration in the MSHCP.
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The true level of stability of this dune system must be evaluated by a combination of historical
analysis (using aerial photography and other techniques) as well as monitoring under the
Adaptive Management Plan. We suggest that aeolian sand-transport monitors be installed in this
area, in addition to sand depth monitoring and photographic monitoring, to determine just how
stable this dune system is over the long term.
V. Species Modeling
1. Was enough information on habitat quantity and quality, and species distribution and
abundance, available to create accurate models?
This question is impossible to answer until the models have been validated by new survey data or
other independent data sets. An accurate model would be one that successfully predicts the
location of new data points.
2. Are the assumptions in the species models supported by literature?
Although the “Species Distribution Model Parameters and Known Locations” report documents
the decision-making process for including or rejecting GIS layers for the individual species
models, we found no detailed discussion of the modeling process or its assumptions and
limitations. Except for a couple general references on modeling, no literature is cited to support
the use of these particular models or their limitations.
3. Was the process for creating the species models scientifically reasonable and defensible
based on available data?
The species models in the Draft Plan are simple GIS overlays and can be described as spatially-
explicit conceptual models. Such models are superior to abstract or spatially non-explicit models
and they are arguably the best that could be produced, given the limited available data. For some
of the better-studied taxa, however, particularly the CV fringe-toed lizard but also perhaps
several other species with relatively abundant data points, more rigorous models with better
predictive power could be developed.
Examples of more rigorous predictive models are several recent approaches based on resource
selection functions (M. Boyce and L. MacDonald, 1999, Trends in Ecology and Evolution
14:268-272). Using multiple logistic regression, occurrences of a given species are graphed
against a series of potential predictor variables. When the relationships are statistically
significant (tighter than expected by chance), those variables enter into the habitat suitability
model for that species, which is displayed in GIS. An advantage of this approach is that
predictions of habitat suitability can be extended geographically beyond the areas for which
sightings exist, but within the documented range of the species. For example, C. Carroll et al.
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(1999, Conservation Biology 13:1344-1359) developed a spatial habitat model for the fisher in
northwestern California and adjacent Oregon, based on 682 previously surveyed locations,
satellite imagery, and derived indices of vegetation composition. The model was validated with
new data from 468 survey stations with sooted track plates, at which vegetation measurements
also were taken. Habitat quality, measured by number of fisher detections at each station was
successfully predicted by the model, with nearly 80% correct classification. The importance of
field validation cannot be overstated. Just because a habitat appears suitable—and even if that
suitability has been well validated in other landscapesdoes not mean it is being used by the
species in question.
The next step beyond such static habitat suitability models are dynamic, spatially-explicit
population models (SEPM), a class of individual-based simulation models that incorporate
additional biological realism as habitat-specific demographic parameters. Because both static and
dynamic models have strengths and weaknesses, a combined approach offers a unified
population viability analysis framework. In SEPMs, individuals not only move between cells, but
grow, reproduce or not, and die. Model output from SEPMs may include the mean population
size, mean time to extinction, or the percentage of suitable habitat occupied. The development of
SEPMs has allowed data gathered from intensive demographic studies to be combined with GIS
maps of landscape composition and pattern. These models permit analysis of both equilibrium
behavior (i.e., can current habitat sustain the current species distribution for 100 years?) and
transient behavior (e.g., can a species recolonize from current refugia or would active
reintroduction be necessary?). Analysis of relaxation times, i.e. the time to and pattern of loss of
a population after habitat change occurs, allows estimates of the “extinction debt” in the region
due to past habitat change. We urge development of these combined models in the Coachella
Valley for those species for which adequate distributional data and estimates of demographic
parameters are available or become so during the adaptive management and monitoring process.
4. What limitations in the species modeling process may result in inadequate or erroneous
maps of potential habitat for any of the target species? What might those errors be?
Small sample sizes (few records) and limited knowledge of autecology are obvious limitations
for many of the covered species. The potential for errors of omission (failing to predict the actual
occurrence of a species) or commission (predicting occurrence where the species is not found)
are correspondingly high. The magnitude of these errors can be determined only through
intensive field validation.
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5. Does an analysis of “known locations conserved” provide enough information to make
decisions about the adequacy of conservation for species without models? Should any
other factors be considered? What are the potential risks of basing conservation of a
species solely on known locations?
Species distribution models should be dynamic, as distributions change over time. Historic
distribution records can yield clues about possible future changes in distributions. There are
inherent risks in basing a long-term conservation plan solely on known locations. One must also
consider likely future changes in the distribution of essential habitat parameters. Furthermore,
records for some species (especially insects) are largely artifacts of convenient accessibility.
Insect collectors and bird watchers (as opposed to researchers) often return to the same known
locations year after year while ignoring many other sites where a given species may occur, but
simply has not been reported. There is no substitute for systematic on-the-ground surveys
covering all likely or possible locations for a species within a region.
6. To what extent is historical location information useful in creating models and proposing
conservation areas?
See previous response.
7. Are there any sources of information not on the list of Source of Biological Data in Table
3.2 that should be consulted?
We are not aware of specific sources of information. This question is best addressed to local
biologists.
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Appendix A (by Greg Ballmer, Ph.D.)
NOTES ON COVERED INVERTEBRATES
Casey's June Beetle (Dinacoma caseyi)
Most records of this species are from the edge of the desert floor where it meets the boundary of
the San Jacinto Mountains. Recent records are from a very few locations on the Agua Caliente
Indian Reservation at the mouth of Palm Canyon and from private land within the Smoke Tree
Ranch residential community. Historic records from elsewhere in Palm Springs and nearby
communities pertain to areas that have been thoroughly developed or otherwise altered and
presumably no longer have appropriate habitat. Other potential habitat identified by Frank
Hovore seems to have a low likelihood of occupancy, but needs to be surveyed to determine
whether the species is present. If this species were found to occur within the Plan Area further
west (Snow Creek/San Gorgonio River Wash is perhaps the most likely place to look), one
would be warranted in expressing greater optimism about its chances of long-term persistence. In
the absence of evidence that it occurs elsewhere, preservation of this species may depend entirely
on the good will and conservation efforts of the Agua Caliente Indians (not included in the Plan)
and other private landowners. The Draft Plan contains no guarantees that either the Indians or
other private landowners will take steps to preserve this species.
Furthermore, in the event of a significant climate shift it seems unlikely that this species will be
able to track the likely changes in the distribution of its habitat, as it is probably already cut off
from that option. One must question the premise that the Draft Plan offers long-term protection
for this species. In order to offer realistic coverage for this species it will be necessary to
determine more accurately the extent of its occupied habitat both in known locations and at other
sites where potential habitat has been identified. Another possible conservation measure could be
active management, including captive breeding and re-release into other suitable areas within the
Plan Area. Success of such measures is speculative and not recommended at this time.
Coachella Valley Giant Sand-treader Cricket (CVGSC) (Macrobaenetes valgum)
This species is a sand endemic restricted to the western portion of the Plan Area from Fingal's
Finger to the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Preserve. Its range is probably determined by
the presence of aeolian sand and a suitable temperature/moisture regime. Plan Alternatives 2 and
3 preserve 39% and 66%, respectively, of this species' current habitat. It should be noted that
significant climatic warming is likely to shift the range of this species toward the western
(cooler, moister) portion of its range and, thus, reduce the useful extent of its protected habitat. In
that event the additional western lands identified in Alternative 3 might provide significantly
more useful habitat and commensurately greater protection from decline and extinction. It seems
likely that sufficient habitat will be protected for this species in both Alternatives 2 and 3 if its
current range does not shift greatly.
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Coachella Valley Jerusalem Cricket (CVJC) (Stenopelmatus cahuilaensis)
The range of this sand endemic is skewed toward the western end of the Coachella Valley, with
known locations primarily from Palm Springs Airport westward to Fingal's Finger. This
correlates with winter precipitation patterns, which are generally higher and more stable in the
west than elsewhere in the valley. Only two records for this species are known from north of I-
10. The westernmost of these was reported just this season from a windmill farm on the bluff
along the north side of Whitewater Canyon. The extent of this population is unknown but could
extend through scattered patches of aeolian sand at the base of the bluffs, as well as further to the
north and east toward Mission Creek. The easternmost record for this species is at the Thousand
Palms off-ramp from the I-10 freeway. This record is probably an outlier, as surveys elsewhere
within the community of Thousand Palms and further to north and east have failed to find it. This
species could occur nearby on the south side of I-10 in the vicinity of the Big Dune. In view of
predicted climatic shift toward warmer and drier conditions, it seems most important for this
species to protect habitat at the western end of its range (especially along the Whitewater River
wash from Palm Springs westward to Fingal's Finger), including the expanded lands included in
Alternative 3.
Coachella Valley Grasshopper (CVG) (Spaniacris deserticola)
This species is a hot desert endemic which does well at elevations around sea level (primarily the
valley floor and adjacent bajadas) where its host-plant, Tiquilia palmeri, occurs. Several historic
sites for this species in the Coachella Valley no longer support habitat. It may now be restricted
to sites north of I-10, including portions of the CVFTL Preserve and Willow Hole areas. The
distribution of this species further to the south and east needs to be determined. As for the
records of this species reported by Matt McDonald from Dos Palmas, near the Salton Sea, and
the east end of the Indio Hills, at least some are misidentifications. If historic populations in
Imperial County have been extirpated, then those remaining in the Coachella Valley should be
considered far more important. Alternative 3 would protect considerably more of the few known
sites for this species than would Alternative 2, although there is some question as to whether
some of the reported sites covered by Alternative 3 are for misidentified specimens.
Pratt's blue (Euphilotes enoptes cryptorufes)
Pratt's blue is confined to the higher elevation chaparral belt in the San Jacinto-Santa Rosa
Mountains range. This is a rarely encountered taxon with perhaps no more than three adult
individuals having been found in the wild. Most museum specimens were reared from larvae
found on the host-plant, Eriogonum davidsonii, which grows in openings in the chaparral and
along trails. Because all known habitat occupied by this species lies within the Santa Rosa
Mountains National Monument and/or National Forest land, the main responsibility for
protecting it lies with federal agencies. Protection should entail proper land management to
ensure that the habitat is maintained to conserve the host plant. This would logically entail a
more-or-less natural fire regime and exclusion of activities which could destroy the habitat. It
seems likely that the management plan for this species is adequate.
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Appendix B (by Dick Tracy, Ph.D.)
ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT/MONITORING PROGRAM
Background
The initial conservation measures under the MSHCP start a process of accumulating experience
and knowledge. That is, the MSHCP contains a programmatic core feature that is “adaptive
management". The initial MSHCP management actions are those hypothesized to be necessary to
mitigate threats to all covered species. However, it is important for the permit holders to admit
that:
1. Currently identified threats are hypotheses about threats rather than certain knowledge.
2. Initial management actions emanate from hypotheses about what is needed to militate
against identified threats.
Proposed management actions thus are guesses as to what is needed to militate against guessed-
at threats. These guesses (or hypotheses) must be replaced by better knowledge as part of the
“management actions” of the MSHCP. This additional knowledge will only come from a
science-based adaptive management program (SBAMP). The work of this program must be
entrusted only to those who normally test hypotheses using scientific methods to generate new
knowledge.
Those in charge of the Adaptive Management Program must recognize that environmental
conditions for species will change, and potentially change dramatically, with time. This is
especially true in Coachella Valley where new species will invade the system (e.g., exotic
invader species like salt cedar, red brome, argentine ants, etc.). Moreover, physical/chemical
changes will occur at high rates (e.g., roads are created or expanded, urban development is
created or expanded, fertilizer and/or pesticides are blown into to spring, etc.). New, or modified,
management actions will be necessary to respond to continued changes in the environment.
In addition, even after “correct” management actions are identified and implemented, the
effectiveness of these actions must be assessed. The process of acquiring and using new
knowledge to prescribe changes in management represents the science-based adaptive
management necessary to assuage Service concerns about the efficacy of the plan behind the
10A permit.
Adaptive management is a flexible, iterative approach to long-term management of biological
resources. Adaptive management is directed over time by the results of ongoing monitoring
activities and other information. This means that biological management techniques and specific
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objectives are regularly evaluated in light of monitoring results and new information on species
needs, land use, and a variety of other considerations. These periodic evaluations are used to
adapt both management objectives and techniques to achieve overall management goals better.
In the case of the MSHCP, these goals broadly include maintenance of the long-term net habitat
values of the ecological communities in project area with a particular emphasis on covered
species. This includes recovery of listed species, conservation of unlisted covered species, and
evaluation of other species for status as covered under the Section 10(a) permit to the Permittees.
Science-Based Adaptive Management
Science-based adaptive management is the approach preferred by many resource managers when
scientific resources and funding are available. Adaptive management provides resource managers
with objective scientific data and analysis upon which to base management decisions. Adaptive
management provides those who fund resource management and conservation actions with
objective and scientifically valid evaluations of the needs for various actions and a basis for
assessing the effectiveness of those actions.
A critical element of a science-based adaptive management program is the database upon which
management decisions are made. Such a database can provide the basis for evaluating species,
ecosystem, and/or landscape status and trends, and it can be used to evaluate management actions
directed at conservation of biological resources. Adaptive management requires a scientifically
valid program for collecting scientific data, coupled with supervision of an accessible database by
a competent scientific authority and quantitative evaluation of emerging data.
Biological recommendations emanating from the SBAMP for inventory, monitoring, and
research ordinarily would be used to establish funding, management, and monitoring priorities.
The primary focus of a SBAMP should be the evaluation of the status of species and ecosystems
within the project areas to bear on land-use decisions potentially affecting biological resources in
these areas. Specifically, the SBAMP must develop methods to monitor the effectiveness of
management actions in meeting MSHCP objectives. For the service, this also requires tracking
how the status of each element of the project (e.g., each species) can be assessed under the
monitoring scheme.
The SBAMP must establish a geographic information system database for all inventory,
monitoring, and research data, and a reliable entity must be invested with authority to keep the
database and make it available to all agencies, municipal and county authorities, scientists, and
NGOs involved with the project. This entity must ensure long-term maintenance of the database
and review of the validity and reliability of the database.
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Elements of SBAMP
The inventory and monitoring component of the SBAMP ordinarily would include six steps
which, when appropriately linked to decision making, would maximize the collection and
integration of objective, reliable data into the decision-making process and help in making
decisions about management actions.
A. Identification of Explicit (Quantifiable) Scientific Goals and Objectives
The goals of the scientific program should include "targets" of study at a variety of
spatial scales and levels of ecological complexity. Targets of study should range from
highly restricted spatial scales for species such as narrow endemics found only in
individual desert springs to broad spatial scales for species ranging over most of the
Valley in multiple habitat types. Targets of study may range from individual populations
to entire ecosystems and landscapes and the physical processes upon which those
ecosystems and species depend. Among those targets of study should be specific
population characteristics of select species of concern, including federally listed
threatened and endangered species, "candidate" species and/or sensitive species, and
other species of special conservation concern. Targets of study for ecological
communities and ecosystems may include variables associated with composition (which
species are present), structure (characteristics like shrub sizes and shapes), and function
(such as presence of pollinators, nitrogen fixers, keystone species, and physical processes
required by the system). Landscape-level studies will identify targets of study that can be
remotely sensed from aerial photography and/or data logging systems. The scientific
goals and objectives ordinarily have to be dynamically optimized to incorporate the most
current scientific information and respond to changes in goals and direction from those in
charge of managing the project.
B. Identification of Likely Environmental Stressors
The SBAMP will identify likely sources of ecological disturbance that can compromise
ecosystems and their constituent species. Environmental stressors include both natural
and anthropogenic phenomena including climate change, fire, loss of habitat due to fire,
toxic pollutants, flood, water diversions, wind breaks, invasions of exotic species,
overharvest of species, and so on. Identification and verification of stressors will be the
product of research to establish mechanistic links between environmental phenomena and
stress to populations, species, and ecosystems.
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C. Construction of Conceptual Models Describing Crucial Ecosystem Interactions
Models will outline interconnections (linkages) among physico-chemical ecosystem
processes, among ecological communities, and among species and processes within
communities. Models are important in developing an understanding of the key ecosystem
processes and properties and in developing an understanding of how environmental
stressors affect processes predicting extinction events. The models will be important in
delimiting the boundaries of what constitutes natural variation in population and
ecosystem processes and describing the role of humans in stressing natural processes.
Models will incorporate the latest scientific concepts and paradigms, the application of
which can contribute to keeping conservation costs low and scientific understanding high.
D. Identification of Indicators
Indicators serve as surrogates and allow inference to be drawn regarding population or
ecosystem processes of concern. They can be species or ecosystem components, or
characteristics that are easy to measure and exhibit dynamics and responses that parallel
more difficult to measure population or ecosystem processes of concern. Indicators are
selected because they demonstrate low natural variability but respond measurably to
environmental change. Indicators will include population sizes and distributions of select
species, physical and biotic variables associated with ecological communities and
vegetation types readily assessed by remote methods. Establishing an indicators program
requires research into correlative relationships among focal populations and ecosystem
and habitat properties and processes. The cost, relative efficacy, and anticipated benefits
of such research should be regularly evaluated (along with other alternative conservation
measures, alternatives, and proposals) by those implementing the HCP as well as the
FWS.
E. Development of Sampling Design to Estimate Status and Trends of Indicators
Hypothesis testing, trend analyses, model development, and statistical inference are
elements of a scientific program that will be subjected to independent scientific review.
Monitoring exercises must be statistically rigorous so that the program will have the
highest probability of detecting ecologically important trends. Sampling design,
hypothesis testing, and trend analyses are all scientific processes that continually become
more efficient as scientific knowledge increases; thus, experimental design requires
continuous evaluation.
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F. Determination of Threshold Values That Will Trigger Proposals for Management
Changes
Status and trends of species and communities must be used to trigger proposals for
adjusting land management and policy. Such data provide the basis for establishing
dynamic policies and management aimed at producing the desired ecological condition
and the conditions required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Appropriately integrated, an adaptive management program will use direct measurements and
surrogate variables (indirect measures of the status of ecosystem processes or species) to
determine the status and trends of ecosystems and their constituent species. Resulting data and
analyses can lead to recommendations for adaptive management. It is critical to this process that
the integrity of inventory, monitoring, and research be assured using the highest standards of
scientific accountability and peer review in order for any adaptive management program to
promote change to management in the project area, the USFWS, resource managers, and
regulatory agencies with reliable and objective.
Adaptive Management Decision Making
An adaptive management framework can allow information to be transferred directly to decision
makers and land and resource planners (e.g., BLM, USFS, USPS, Boulder City, etc.) for
integration into MSHCP implementation. This information transfer could follow that proposed
for effectiveness monitoring for the Northwest forests (see Effectiveness Monitoring for the
Northwest Forest Plan - Draft 7 August 1997). The process involves four steps:
Provide a range of possible management responses
Determine the potential alternative ecological outcomes associated with specific
phenomena being monitored
Assess the probabilities associated with each possible interpretation of monitoring data
Identify the management decision that maximizes the overall "utility" of each decision
and outcome (involving considerations of the costs of misinterpretations of monitoring
data and/or costs of wrong decisions)
To the extent feasible, species and habitat linkages will be addressed to produce proposals for
management that maximize the conservation of ecosystems upon which “covered” species
depend and that minimize financial costs and disruption of public activities. By linking
statistically validated sampling designs with explicit consideration of environmental stressors,
any MSHCP would move beyond traditional census approaches that document trends but rarely
Proposed Major Amendment to the Coachella Valley MSHCP – March 2014