A stakeholder effort to identify priorities for land conservation has been stalled for a year.

Since 2012, EHL has co-chaired, along with the Building Industry Association, the Environment Element Group (EEG), part of a Vision process initiated by San Bernardino County. Stakeholders were convened, meetings held, and common ground was established to inventory “best practices” to both integrate environmental concerns into a streamlined development process and to develop a comprehensive and voluntary, non-regulatory approach to conserve habitat. In 2016, the EEG adopted a detailed policy document. Biological analysis commenced to identify biological priority areas and gaps in conservation. A new institutional body to implement conservation goals was anticipated. 

About this time, the California Dept of Fish and Wildlife (CDFG) launched a new program called the Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS), which aligned remarkably with the EEG effort. There were several added benefits to an RCIS. State-sanctioned “mitigation credits” could be offered to help landowners sell land for conservation purposes. State approval would also facilitate “advanced mitigation” for infrastructure and development projects, which saves time and money and leads to better conservation outcomes. If, in the future, the County desired regulatory permits for species, the RCIS could be converted into a Natural Community Conservation Plan.

The EEG, in a unified manner, building industry included, decided to pursue an RCIS. In addition to its original scope of the populated western Valley area, the RCIS was expanded to include large tracts of the western Mojave desert, where renewable energy development might utilize the program to identify priority mitigation lands. San Bernardino County, the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, and the Southern California Assoc. of Governments have all been sponsors or funders.

The RCIS process culminated in a draft strategy in 2018. However, CDFW rejected the draft, apparently because guidelines called for contiguous rather than separate Valley and Mojave planning areas. It was sent back for revision to include a bridge consisting of National Forest land. Climate factors would also be added, in response to new state guidelines. While the program almost collapsed, the sponsors and the EEG persevered. With the help of planning grant funds from the State Wildlife Conservation Board, a new draft was produced in 2022.

After all these ups and downs, and just before a revised draft was to be submitted to CDFW, the politically powerful Building Industry Association (BIA) asked for, and was granted, a long delay. This also signaled a change in its prior longstanding support. 

EHL is now working on multiple fronts with sponsoring agencies and stakeholders to restart progress. 

The RCIS is an important step for San Bernardino County, which does not have the open space networks or streamlined permitting of its neighbors. It would be terrible for a decade of effort to go to waste.