Desert Tortoise Becomes Candidate for Endangered Status in California

tortoise_in_yard.jpegThe California Fish and Game Commission has temporarily designated the desert tortoise as endangered, a step beyond its current status as threatened. Similar to the action reported in our most recent News Update about the status of the western Joshua tree, a year-long review period will precede a permanent designation. Read more in this LA Times article.

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Joshua Trees Voted as Candidate for Threatened Status

The California Fish and Game Commission voted 4-0 on September 22 to advance the western Joshua tree to the status of candidate for listing as threatened under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This vote initiates a one-year review. In a second 3-1 decision, 15 large-scale solar projects nearing construction will be permitted to move forward under a seldom-used emergency provision "2084." Read the details in this Desert Sun article or in the Los Angeles Times.
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Comments on Environmental Justice in Countywide Plan

MBCA has sent a letter to San Bernardino County Land Use Services and the Countywide Plan Coordinator with concerns about the Environmental Justice Policy proposed as part of the Countywide Plan. The Plan is due for consideration at a September 17 Planning Commission meeting. Of special concern is why Lucerne Valley has not been designated an "Environmental Justice Focus Area" (EJFA), and why other communities that should qualify by state descriptions do not qualify for the same protections.
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Countywide Plan Public Comment Controversy

MBCA emailed San Bernardino County's Countywide Plan Coordinator Jerry Blum on September 4, 2020, expressing concern and dismay about the short timeline for public comment preparation before the Countywide Plan's appearance on the agenda of the Planning Commission on September 17. There had been only limited public messaging about the "finalized documents" and the scheduled meeting. The County's website announcement includes links to the hundreds of pages of documents. Here are four emails that explain our concerns and include the County's response. You can find additional background on our County Plan page including MBCA's previous comments since the process began in 2014.
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MBCA Joins Coalition Requesting I-15 Wildlife Crossings

MBCA has joined a coalition of 25 non-profit organizations requesting that wildlife over-passes and under-passes be constructed as part of the XpressWest High Speed Rail Project planned for Victor Valley to Las Vegas. The letter to CalTrans, which is the agency contracting with the developer for right of way across the I-15 median, explains the need and notes related legislation in both Congress and the California Legislature.
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California Fish & Game Commission Continues Joshua Tree Listing to September

The California Fish and Game Commission this afternoon agreed to continue the vote on the western Joshua Tree threatened listing to September on a 4-0 vote with one recusal. More information will be forthcoming.
There were many MBCA supporters, other desert residents and also residents from all over California and Nevada who appreciate the Joshua tree who made comments in favor of the listing over 7 hours. Over 70 of about 90 public comments were in favor. There were eloquent statements even though limited to 1 minute. We'll report with more details in a few days and will post a link to the almost-7-hour meeting when it is available.  
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EBlast August 3, 2020

Desert Wise Living Landscape Desert Tour 2020 goes virtual!

Petition to list yucca brevifolia as a threatened species

Opposition to Eagle Crest pumped storage project

Reject nomination of William Pendley to head BLM

Daggett Solar Energy project update

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease in the Morongo Basin

Complete the 2020 Census

Support MBCA through Amazon Smile

 

Desert Wise Living Landscape Tour 2020 goes virtual!
The 10th annual Desert Wise Landscaping tour is nearly ready to view. The final cut is now being edited and music added. We are extremely pleased with the quality of the production and are excited to share the work with you, our members and supporters. We plan to release the 5 Virtual Tour videos very soon. The announcement will be made via email and also on our Facebook and Instagram sites. We are most appreciative of the hard work of our producer Stacy Doolittle, photographer/director/editor Heather Sommerfield and drone photographer Austin Ahlborg. Please stay tuned and we will notify you when they are released!

Petition to list yucca brevifolia as threatened species
The California Fish and Game Commission will consider a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species at their meeting on August 20. There continue to be hyperbolic predictions of the dire consequences of granting this species status as threatened. MBCA has written a letter in support of the listing and we are continuing to track this issue. We urge you to write to the Commission expressing support for the listing. The deadline for receipt of letters is this Thursday, August 6. Should the Commission vote in favor of granting candidate status for consideration as threatened, a one-year period will commence during which a thorough study will be undertaken. A final determination regarding threatened status will be made subsequent to this study. During the one-year period the Joshua tree would be provided protection as if it were an threatened species.

Relative to the exaggerated concerns expressed by some Yucca Valley officials and residents predicting dire consequences for development if the designation is given, there is a proven method to create the right balance of native species protection and careful community development. Creating a Natural Community Conservation Plan has helped other California communities, including the Coachella Valley, create such a balance. Take the example of the ongoing wastewater treatment system project in Yucca Valley, which was granted a Mitigated Negative Declaration for construction. Should the designation of threatened be granted to the Joshua tree, an application for an ‘incidental take permit’ would be required to comply with CEQA. Granting of an incidental take permit for every project involving the removal or transplanting of a Joshua tree would be unwieldy, expensive and time consuming. For these reasons we support the creation of a Natural Community Conservation Plan. This landscape level plan would provide a framework for development and establish a mechanism for streamlined compliance with CEQA. A successful example of such a landscape-level plan can be found in the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

A hastily drafted Assembly Bill 235 authored by state assembly member Chad Mayes in opposition to the Joshua tree listing would change the basis upon which the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) is founded: from a purely science based approach to include economic considerations. As of this writing the bill, apparently drafted to facilitate the on-going Town of Yucca Valley wastewater treatment system, does not appear to have the needed support for passage, however we continue to monitor its progress.

The Commission staff summary presents extensive documentation of the petition for the listing, and these background and talking points describe the issues being considered.

Given the strong opposition for listing that has been expressed by the Town of Yucca Valley, our County desert supervisors, and the local gateway realtors, it is important for the Commission to hear local support for the listing. Written comments (due August 6) may be e-mailed to fgc@fgc.ca.gov or hard copies mailed to: 

California Fish and Game Commission
President Eric Sklar
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

If you can’t send written comments by the deadline, consider making oral comments at the August 20 Zoom meeting. Typically comments are limited to three minutes. However, with the amount of interest in this issue, time may be limited to one or two minutes so structure your comments accordingly.

Opposition to Eagle Crest pumped storage project
The latest attempt to facilitate the construction of this inappropriate project is state assembly bill AB1720, another gut-and-amend bill. Through four bills over the past three years, the Florida-based NextEra Corporation has attempted to pass controversial legislation to force procurement of its project since it has failed to compete in the open marketplace and state regulators have not identified a need for it. I am pleased to report that AB1720 has, as of this writing, failed to garner adequate support to move forward. The Eagle Crest pumped storage project, if constructed, would utilize billions of gallons of precious water pumped from the desert aquifer to fill the pits of the now shuttered Eagle Mountain mine.

Reject nomination of William Pendley to head BLM
MBCA has signed onto a letter, along with over 300 environmental organizations, in opposition to the nomination of William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management. The appointment of this individual would be disastrous for the protection and support of our public lands!

Daggett Solar Energy project update
The lawsuit contesting this massive solar energy project has been settled. The Petitioner, Newberry Community Services District, has agreed to a Settlement Agreement and Release of Claims. MBCA provided comments in opposition to the certification of the EIR for this project contending that the visual impacts, air quality impacts, effects on the biological resources, wildlife corridors, avian resources, and social and environmental impacts of the project were not properly considered. MBCA is disappointed in the settlement and the concessions made that do not adequately address the concerns we raised.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease in the Morongo Basin
The highly contagious Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) has been confirmed in the deaths of more rabbits in our area. To learn more about this disease with important recommendations for reporting and handling sick animals, see the online flyer.

RHDV2 is not known to be contagious to humans, livestock, pets or wildlife other than rabbits. Being HIGHLY contagious between rabbits, California Department of Fish and Wildlife requests that should you find a carcass that shows no sign of traumatic injury, to file a report utilizing the form referenced within the flyer above. The carcass should either be double bagged and disposed of in the trash or single bagged and buried at least 24” deep. Many more rabbits are anticipated to die from this virus and is sure to affect the diet of coyotes, bobcats and foxes due to a loss of their primary source of protein.

Complete the 2020 Census
With all that is demanding our attention during these difficult times, please do not neglect to complete the 2020 census form. This may be accomplished either online, by mail or by phone. Log onto United States Census 2020 for information on how to easily complete the simple form.

Support MBCA through Amazon Smile
Purchases through the Amazon Smile program can help support MBCA! Please select MBCA as the non-profit recipient by typing in Morongo Basin Conservation and then selecting Morongo Basin Conservation Association. Every small amount adds up to help support our mission! Thank you!

As of this writing the Apple Fire is continuing to burn in the San Bernardino Mountains devastating more habitat with the commensurate health effects for all life. This, and the ongoing effects of climate change emphasize the importance of MBCA’s mission to advocate for the healthy desert.

I hope this e-blast finds you healthy and safe!

Sincerely,

Steve Bardwell

Your MBCA Board:

Steve Bardwell, President
David Fick, Vice President
Laraine Turk, Secretary
Marina West, Treasurer  
Pat Flanagan, Director
Meg Foley, Director

Brian Hammer, Director
Janet Johnston, Director
Sarah Kennington, Director
Mike Lipsitz, Director
Arch McCulloch, Director
Ruth Rieman, Director

 

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More News on the Proposed Joshua Tree Listing

This Los Angeles Times article highlights and summarizes the conflict locally and at the state level about listing the Joshua Tree as a threatened species in California. Assemblymember Chad Mayes is reported to have filed a "hastily crafted emergency bill" to make it easier to "take" threatened or endangered species when economic development or infrastructure is at issue.
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MBCA Joins Broad Coalition Opposing Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project

MBCA is one of 27 diverse non-profit groups opposing any further consideration of the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project in this June 23rd letter to Governor Newsom and the co-chairs of the recently created Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. Following three failed legislative efforts to seek bailout and authorization for its proposed Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project, Next Era is now seeking consideration from the Task Force. Attached to the Coalition letter is a similar request signed by the California Municipal Utilities Association, Southern California Public Power Authority, and Northern California Power Agency. Prior coalition letters of opposition to this project signed by MBCA in April and May are also included in the document.
 
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MBCA Supports Listing the Joshua Tree as Threatened

Read MBCA's letter to the California Fish & Game Commission supporting the listing of Yucca brevifolia, the western Joshua tree, as a threatened species. For background see our recent News Update on the topic and the second item in the June 8 EBlast.
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