NRC South Report - May 2011
After a couple of years hiatus, the Raven Management Environmental Assessment has become an action item. To put it in perspective, several years ago, raven predation was pin-pointed as a major issue impacting the desert tortoise recovery efforts. An EA was developed that addressed raven management options and a Raven Working Group was established. I was selected to be the recreation representative on that working group.
The raven management will be funded by collecting a “mitigation fee” from permitted projects within the BLM California Desert District.
Currently, this fee is assessed as $65 per acre for 20 year permitted projects and $103 per acre for 30 year permitted projects. Eventually, all permitted projects with a lasting impact will be subject to the mitigation fee.
I challenged the verbiage being used as this could eventually be construed to include any and all permitted activities within the desert region. After a brief discussion, it was agreed that "lasting impact" and "temporary impact" would be caveats. Under this, recreation use would be termed "temporary impact" and exempt from any mitigation fee; provided permitted activities were within existing roads, trails, and camping areas. Construction of new camping areas/facilities would be subject to some mitigation measure/fee.
However, recreation events may need to employ some aspect of control for trash/waste if conducted in a desert tortoise critical habitat area. Such measures might include steps such as use of raven-proof trash containers or monitoring to ensure camp areas are cleaned at the end of an event. Overall, the potential financial impact should be negligible.
The overall effort of the Raven Working Group is to develop measures to control raven predation on desert tortoise hatchlings. The initial effort will concentrate along power line corridors within critical habitat and Desert Wildlife Management Areas.
Through monitoring, problem areas will be determined by presence of tortoise shells under power lines/towers or other roosting/nesting sites. Once an area is identified, Wildlife Services (USDA agency) will initiate predator control measures to remove the problem ravens.
Overall, this will be an on-going project that will be funded by mitigation fees attached to renewable energy projects. The fee is expected to be applied other permitted projects in the future and only within desert tortoise recovery areas. As of now, it should not impact permitted recreation events.
Along with the raven management, the long awaited Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan is in final stages of approval and release. Initially, it was to be released on May 1. That has now slipped to some time in June or July. There is an agency level meeting scheduled for week of June 6 where the recovery plan is the focal topic.
The recovery plan is not expected to have significant impacts to recreation opportunities. Desert tortoise critical habitat is well defined and subsequent BLM route designation has been accomplished within those areas. An on-going tortoise information and education program has been in place. The initial program was managed by National Park Service and based in Joshua Tree NP and funded by OHMVR and US Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants. That program will have a new program manager on-board on June 6 and be based out of the Living Desert in Palm Springs with primary funding and support from the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species and the San Diego Zoological Society.
I spent the past four years as recreation representative with that program under the National Park Service and its transition to the Living Desert.
I received an invitation to attend a one-day GIS conference sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Game, Coachella Valley Association of Governments, Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program and ESRI on June 1. The conference focused on Inter-governmental Partnerships and Conservation Planning and Land Management using GIS data and tools within the Mojave Desert region.
This invitation came from my work with the Desert Managers Group and their working groups dealing with Desert Tortoise Information and Education and Raven Management.
The Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program is the Information Technology branch of the DMG with includes the Department of Defense and Department of Interior along with state agencies and county governments within the Mojave Desert Region. ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) is the major developer of GIS technology.
The conference was a good review of the current state of Geographic Information System technology and how it is being used to collect and analyze data for land use planning in the Mojave Desert region.
In addition to the standard BLM land management plans, there are three other large scale planning efforts in the desert region. My report last month covered one - Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
Another related planning effort is the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. The DRECP is an extensive habitat conservation plan that is being developed for public and private property within the Mojave Desert region.
In addition, the BLM is working on a landscape assessment that will cover the the Mojave Desert region in California, southern Nevada, northern Arizona and part of southwest Utah.
The Mojave Desert Ecosystem Program is working to bring on-line GIS databases from DMG, Department of Defense, Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and Bureau of Land Management. There are a number of research efforts in process by US Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, US Geological Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and other universities and counties within the southern Nevada and southern California region.
Together, these planning efforts share two common factors: 1) critical habitat for threatened and endangered species and 2) water - quality and quantity.
Within the coming months, BLM will be conducting an extensive inventory of their routes in the Western Mojave planning area of the Mojave Desert region. It is expected that subsequent route designation will use the critical habitat models being developed to determine final route status (open or closed).
Finally, Representative Gallegly (R-CA24) is proposing a wilderness bill in the Los Padres NF. Along with some other recreation enthusiasts, I have met with his District Chief of Staff (Brian Miller). A number of issues have been presented that relate to the proposal. At this time, there is no set time schedule for the proposed legislation to move forward. It is expected that additional discussions will continue over the summer months to draft a bill.
A map noting high recreation value routes and areas has been provided, along with specifics to ensure that existing routes in the proposed wilderness areas are retained.