DRECP Spotlight: Cuddeback

When I was a kid growing up in Victorville watching jets taking off from now-closed George Air Force Base, I didn't know that some of them were probably bombing a 12 square mile patch of desert in California known as the Cuddeback Air Force Bomb and Gunnery Range.  The U.S. Air Force gave up the Cuddeback range in August 2012, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is still figuring out whether it is "suitable for public use."  The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) does not designate the Cuddeback range as either a development focus area or a conservation area, even thought it is immediately adjacent to two wilderness areas, and probably serves as important habitat for the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel.

The Google map above shows the approximate boundaries of the former Cuddeback Air Force Range.  The DRECP does not recognize the range as BLM land, even though Department of Interior testimony acknowledged that the U.S. Air Force relinquished the land to the BLM in 2012.

It may not be possible to allow the public to roam the area until unexploded ordinance is removed, but the DRECP should designate the former Cuddeback Air Force Range as conservation land to remove ambiguity about its ecological importance.  According to a data set available on the DRECP Gateway,  portions of the Cuddeback range serve as a key population center and habitat linkage for the Mojave ground squirrel.  The range is also adjacent to the Superior-Cronese Desert Wildlife Management Area for the desert tortoise.

A screenshot from the DRECP Gateway data set on Mojave ground squirrel habitat shows that the former Cuddeback Air Force Bomb and Gunnery Range provides important habitat for this species.

In the scope of the DRECP, a 12 square mile patch of desert seems almost irrelevant.  But it is a gaping hole in a stretch of land administered by the Department of Interior, and if it were properly recognized for its ecological importance it would probably qualify for designation as an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC) and inclusion within the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS).

Congressman Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation that would transfer the range to the U.S. Navy as part of the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station (H.R. 4458), but designation of the area for conservation purposes under the DRECP would not preclude future use by the Navy.  In fact, other lands sought by the Navy are designated as NLCS in the draft DRECP,  so it is not clear why the Cuddeback area is left un-designated.

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