March 10, 2016

Conserving a Riverland Oasis in the Mojave Desert

Photography | Photo by Krista Schyler.

In southern California, Western Rivers Conservancy has purchased 1,640 acres along one of the Golden State’s most imperiled streams: The Mojave River. In a region stressed by ongoing drought and where residential development continues to chisel away at sensitive desert habitat, the Mojave River is a lifeline. It provides the only significant corridor of riparian habitat in the western Mojave Desert.

The Mojave is unlike most rivers in that it flows underground for much of its length. Even when it flows subsurface, however, the river nourishes important habitat for imperiled southern California animals. But the rare stretches of the Mojave that flow above ground create the most fertile and important habitat of all.

Between the towns of Victorville and Helendale, the underlying geology forces the Mojave River to the surface, and year-round flows nourish a lush 15-mile corridor of cottonwoods and willows, rich with bird, insect and other life. This oasis in the Mojave Desert, known as the Transition Zone, is where WRC is focusing its efforts. The ranch we acquired contains the most significant stand of riparian habitat within this unique stretch of the Mojave.

Protection of the Mojave, especially where it flows above ground, is crucial to the recovery of numerous imperiled bird species, including endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, endangered least Bell’s vireo and threatened yellow-billed cuckoo. It is also critical to the recovery of the endangered Mojave tui chub. Conservation of the ranch will support populations of migratory birds and several California species of special concern, including the Mojave River vole, southwestern pond turtle, brown-crested flycatcher, long-eared owl, summer tanager, yellow warbler and others.

Now that we have acquired the ranch, we are working to convey it to the Helendale Community Services District so the lands can be managed as a reserve with low-impact public use. The property has long been a target for conservation by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the State of California and local and national conservation organizations. Our purchase of these lands will finally make this a reality and ensure that this vital reach of the Mojave River is permanently conserved.

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