Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy Climate Change and Desert Resiliency Policy


California continues to be challenged by unsustainable global greenhouse gas emissions levels that negatively impact residents, wildlife and natural resources. The state is experiencing rising average temperatures, shrinking mountain snowpack, warmer storms, higher sea levels and more extreme and prevalent natural disasters, such as floods, landslides and wildfires.

Our state has long been a trailblazer in its policy responses to climate change, for example by enacting the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (“AB 32”) and the more recent ongoing work to create the California 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan (“2030 State Plan”). The 2030 State Plan is a vision for the natural and working (e.g., agricultural or timber) lands that seeks to protect them from conversion to more intense uses, preserve and enhance their capacity for carbon sequestration through management and restoration, and redirect biomass to support renewable energy and soil health. The state legislature and the California Natural Resources Agency (“CNRA”) continue to work diligently to implement these and related state policies through the integration of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) reduction and climate resiliency features into existing programs and by working toward funding for new or expanded climate resiliency programs in the future.

As an agency within CNRA, the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy (“Conservancy”) is an essential part of implementing state policies here in the Coachella Valley and surrounding mountainous areas in accordance with our statutory mission in Public Resources Code section 33500. While most statewide climate change programs are focused on coastal, forested or urban areas, desert regions also play a significant role in carbon sequestration: in fact, at least a third of California’s biodiversity is found in desert regions like the Coachella Valley. Due to the distinct ecosystems within deserts, different actions are needed to respond to climate change than those used in coastal or forested areas.

Devising and implementing such approaches is an appropriate challenge for the Conservancy, as the only state conservancy located entirely with a desert region that hosts plant and animal populations found nowhere else on earth. Climate change is threatening many of those species due to increasing temperatures and hyper-aridity. Invasive plant species crowd out natural species such as desert dry wash woodlands or mesquite groves that are better at absorbing carbon than invasive species. Further, the undisturbed carbon sinks throughout the desert may be better at storing carbon than moist or tropical forest regions. Yet those sinks are disturbed by invasive species and human activity which release the carbon. Finally, the Coachella Valley hosts urbanizing development, which, without smarter land use and recreation planning, may further accelerate the loss of species and the degradation of carbon sinks in the surrounding desert.

This policy describes the strategies and methods that the Conservancy will use to respond to climate change and promote resiliency in this unique desert and mountainous region. It addresses both natural ecosystems management in the vast undeveloped open spaces here as well as interventions in human activities to reduce GHG emissions arising from the developed parts of the Coachella Valley.

Strategic Goals to Guide Policy Decisions

a. Climate Considerations in Program Development and Project Selection. The Conservancy will consider the impact of consider climate change in the desert in evaluating all future programs and projects seeking funding. Specifically, it will analyze the potential for each proposed program or project to:

1. Produce measurable, verifiable GHG emissions reductions;

2. Prevent species extinction by protecting or restoring lands that offer refuge to species whose natural habitat is diminished by climate change;

3. Expand outdoor recreational access to underserved communities to reduce motorized vehicle use;

4. Protect undisturbed carbon sink areas from human activity; and

5. Support smart growth policies with strategically selected acquisitions, restoration and recreation projects.

b. Multi-level Collaboration. The Conservancy will collaborate with other agencies and governmental entities to develop, support, and implement climate change strategies and projects that minimize or offset impacts to natural resources. The Conservancy will partner with non-profits and local jurisdictions to deliver projects in communities where they are most needed.

c. Education and Interpretation. The Conservancy will provide current information and guidance to grantees and the public about climate change generally as well as environmental stewardship advice about best management practices.

d. Conservancy Impacts. Conservancy staff will endeavor to reduce the carbon imprint of its own activities by coordinating site visits, using technology to replace in person meetings where possible, implementing a partial telecommuting program to reduce commuting days, and reducing use of paper and other consumable office supplies.

Methods of Implementation

The Conservancy shall endeavor to incorporate climate resiliency features into its existing programs and launch new resiliency programs as funding permits as follows:

1. Land Acquisition Program:

a. Implement the CVMSHCP to preserve habitat for ESA/CESA species with a focus on creating refugia for species whose habitat is degraded by climate change;

b. Retain natural fluvial and sand transport systems; and

c. Acquire land strategically to balance development and conservation, reduce wildfire and flood risk and expand access to nearby open space for historically underserved communities.

2. Improved Land Management:

a. Construct improvements that support management and law enforcement efforts with a focus on reducing human impact to habitat values and protecting undisturbed areas from surface disturbance to support carbon sequestration capacity of public land, such as carbon sinks;

b. Remove invasive plants and restore land features that retain stormwater to enhance water supply and quality to promote new growth of native vegetation;

c. Reduce wildfire risk in mountainous areas with improved vegetation management; and

d. Support projects that reduce dispersal of particulate matter and other pollutants to enhance public health in agricultural and economically disadvantaged communities.

3. Watershed Enhancement:

a. Restore wetlands or semi wetlands to support natural vegetation and aquifer health, and where feasible, initiate revegetation of native species of trees and shrubs;

b. Preserve water supply and improve water quality in local watersheds in support of vegetation and wildlife;

c. Support improvements that enhance flow of clean stormwater into rivers, streams leading into the Salton Sea and habitat areas in support of vegetation and wildlife; and

d. Restore land features near the Salton Sea that retain storm water and reduce soil salinity.

4. Equitable Access:

a. Expand and enhance outdoor recreation access through trails, park improvements or new public open space that is near economically disadvantaged communities and population centers to reduce vehicle miles traveled;

b. Enhance public health and educational opportunities with disability access improvements and interpretive features;

c. Support green transportation options to outdoor recreation sites; and

d. Improve the capacity and diversity of the local conservation workforce by supporting training efforts of conservation corps and other nonprofits that reach into nearby economically disadvantaged communities.

5. Sustainability

a. Encourage infill development and redevelopment instead of construction on open space;

b. Support smart growth that includes public transport or renewable fuel vehicle infrastructure;

c. Promote use of renewable energy and encourage recycling, composting and alternative methods of waste reduction; and

d. Support projects that enhance human quality of life by reducing disturbance of dust and circulation of unhealthful particulate matter, create urban green spaces to reduce heat islands and reduce wildfire and flood risk.

Adopted by CVMC Board July 13, 2020