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Center for Biological Diversity

California's Grand Deserts

Photo by - Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences




A history of the CDCA

Meet the imperiled species of the CDCA

Summary of Center actions to protect the CDCA

Golden State Biodiversity Initiative

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Surprise Canyon


California Desert Conservation Area

CBD launches a revolution in desert wildlife and habitat protection

In 1976, Congress designated a 25 million acre swath of Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin deserts — stretching from the Mexican border north to Death Valley and the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains — as the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). The CDCA includes some of the most scenic and biologically important areas in Imperial, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo and Mono counties. This Virginia-sized expanse was entrusted to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to be forever protected for wildlife, open-space, and sustainable human enjoyment.

The 1994 California Desert Protection Act further increased protection by designating 3.5 million acres of the CDCA as wilderness, turning Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments into National Parks, and establishing the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve.

Despite this strong congressional mandate, the BLM has not risen to the challenge of managing the desert for all species and all people. Until recently it has supported the historic status quo of mining, grazing, road building, utility projects, and off-road mayhem for the benefit of a few. Imperiled species such as the desert tortoise, Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep, and cushenberry buckwheat nosedived toward extinction while planning efforts to protect and restore wildlife habitat were repeatedly delayed.

In just a few short years, the Center for Biological Diversity has caused a revolution in wildlife and ecosystem protection across the CDCA. Through a series of administrative appeals, scientific petitions, and lawsuits, the Center has protected millions of acres, forced the BLM to complete ecosystem management plans, and elevated the management of the California Desert to the level intended by congress: wildlife, wilderness, open space, clean water and natural quiet are the new priorities.

Historic Agreement Protects Millions of Acres of Desert.

In March 2000, the Center filed suit in the name of 24 endangered species against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over the impacts of mining, grazing, damaging roads, off-road vehicles and exotic species on the BLM's 11 million acre share of the California Desert Conservation Area. A series of sweeping settlements in 2000 and 2001 protected millions of acres from these destructive practices.

Protecting Peninsular Ranges Bighorn Sheep Habitat.

In 2001, the Center won the formal designation of 844,897 acres of "critical habitat" for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. It also stopped development projects, roads and trails which threaten bighorn.

Closing Mines in Parks and Endangered Species Habitat.

In 1999, the Center shut down the largest mine operating within the National Park Service system- the Cima Cinder Mine within the Mojave Preserve. In 2001, it won a legal settlement banning new or expanded mines of 3.4 million aces of habitat for the desert tortoise and other species.

Kicking Livestock out of Wilderness Areas, Wetlands, and Fragile Deserts to Benefit Natural Recovery.

Over the last two years pressure and lawsuits from the Center have resulted in cows & sheep being removed or restricted on over 2.5 million acres of habitat for the desert tortoise, southwestern willow flycatcher and Least Bell's vireo.

Off-Road Vehicle Closures to Protect Soils, Solitide, and Riparian Areas.

In a series of precedent setting legal settlements with the Bureau of Land Management, the Center closed 550,000 acres of the CDCA to off-road vehicles to protect the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, Peirson's milkvetch, desert tortoise and other imperiled species. Included were 49,310 acres of the Algodones Dunes.

Closing Damaging Roads in Critical Habitat Areas.

In a legal settlement with the Bureau of Land Management, the Center won the closure of approximately 4,500 miles of roads to benefit the desert tortoise and other species on over 874,000 acres.

Saving Wildlife from Electrocution and Poisoning.

At the Center's request, the BLM has agreed to retrofit all major power lines crossing the CDCA to reduce electrocution deaths of raptors. The BLM also agreed to use wildlife-safe coolant in all government vehicles assigned to the CDCA and to encourage hunters to use non-lead bullets to reduce lead poisoning in raptors and other species which feed on carrion.

Controlling Non-native Species.

In response to the Center's lawsuit, the BLM will step up its efforts to humanely remove non-native burros from the habitats of the desert tortoise, Inyo California towhee and Yuma clapper rail. It will also accelerate removal of non-native tamarisk trees to promote riparian restoration.

Wildlife Monitoring and Surveying.

To ensure wildlife are adequately protected, the BLM will greatly increase surveying for endangered riparian obligate birds and initiate a review of endangered species conservation on 17 Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and 16 Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas.

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