What We Do

The Refuge System is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Service is the primary Federal entity responsible for conserving and enhancing the Nation’s fish and wildlife populations and their habitats. Comprehensive Conservation Plans assist the Service in ensuring that the refuges within the National Wildlife Refuge System are managed to achieve refuge purposes, the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and other mandates.

The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes the Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The 3,276 acres of refuge land is located ten miles east of Palm Springs in the rapidly developing Coachella Valley. The Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge is part of the larger Coachella Valley Preserve.

This 20,114 acre preserve was established in 1985 to protect critical habitat for the survival of the federally threatened Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard. Many other sensitive species have undergone dramatic population declines due to habitat loss in this fragile desert environment.

The preserve is managed cooperatively between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Center for Natural Lands Management. The Thousand Palms Oasis Visitor Center is open daily during regular business hours, except in the summer when it is closed. The preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Management and Conservation

Current resource management efforts at Coachella Valley NWR are directed primarily at controlling invasive plants. 

The invasive salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima) gets established in low depressions between dune systems or in gullies coming out of the Indio Hills. Annually the refuge staff trek the dunes with chainsaws and herbicide in an effort to remove these small trees to keep them from spreading as well as remove perches that predatory birds may use to predate on threatened Coachella Valley Fringe-toed lizards.  

Another invasive plant is Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii). In the last decade its population has exploded during years with ample rainfall, occupying nearly 100% of refuge lands. Staff  are concerned about the potential negative effect of this species on local native flora and fauna and have developed strategies for controlling it in the future. This plant has the potential to stabilize the active dunes that are home to the threatened fringe-toed lizard as well as the endangered Coachella Valley milkvetch. Control in the future will be accomplished by herbicide while avoiding native vegetation, particularly the endangered milkvetch. The aggressive nature of the invasive mustard prompts it to germinate much earlier in the fall/winter following a soaking rainfall than native plants. This life strategy of the mustard will allow refuge managers a window of opportunity to treat sensitive dune areas that are threatened with stabilization before native plants have germinated.

Refuge Planning 

National Wildlife Refuge planning sets the broad vision for refuge management and the goals, objectives, strategies, and actions required to achieve it. Planning ensures that each refuge meets its individual purposes, contributes to the Refuge System’s mission and priorities, is consistent with other applicable laws and policies, and enhances conservation benefits beyond refuge boundaries. 

Comprehensive Conservation Plans 

Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) are the primary planning documents for National Wildlife Refuges. As outlined in the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as amended, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is required to develop CCPs that guide refuge management for the next 15 years. CCPs articulate the Service’s contributions to meeting refuge purposes and the National Wildlife Refuge System mission. CCPs serve as a bridge between broad, landscape-level plans developed by other agencies and stakeholders and the more detailed step-downs that stem from Refuge CCPs.  

The 2014 Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Sonny Bono Salton Sea and Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuges can be found here: https://ecos.fws.gov/ServCat/Reference/Profile/108501 

Step-down Plans 

CCP step-down plans guide refuge-level programs for: (1) conserving natural resources (e.g., fish, wildlife, plants, and the ecosystems they depend on for habitat); (2) stewarding other special values of the refuge (e.g., cultural or archeological resources, wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, etc.); and (3) engaging visitors and the community in conservation, including providing opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation. Like CCPs, step-down plans contribute to the implementation of relevant landscape plans by developing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives, strategies, implementation schedules, and decision support tools to fulfill refuge visions and goals. This ensures that refuges are managed in a landscape context and that conservation benefits extend beyond refuge boundaries.