2014 Annual Report


25 Years Strong, Shaping Our West

For over 25 years, Sonoran Institute has been a pioneer in efforts to unite and celebrate the best of Western culture, history, nature and urban spaces by making connections, seeking practical solutions and promoting long-term sustainability. View and download our 2014 Annual Report to see all that we've done up through 2014 and what we plan on doing as we move forward.

2040 Vision

  Stategic Framework Cover

Strategic Framework

For the last 25 years, we have been successfully helping people in the West build the communities they want to live in while preserving the West that brought them here. Discover our vision for our next 25 years. 

Our Letter to You

Read our 2040 Vision 

New Report - Morongo Basin Conservation Priorities 2012

Morongo Report Cover JPG V. 2 for WEbMorongo Basin Conservation Priorities Report: A strategy for preserving conservation values.


Download the report

In an increasingly complex world, how do you build community support for land-use planning and development? Read our new report on scenario planning and community collaboration.

Resources - Morongo Basin

Interactive Conservation Value Priorities Map  Conservation value priorities identified for individual parcels in the Moronogo Basin - Coming Soon!

Links to Planning Partner Websites:

Joshua Tree National Park

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center

Mojave Desert Land Trust

Morongo Basin Conservation Association

Morongo Basin

Morongo Basin Regional Conservation and Land Use Planning Project

The Morongo Basin is a fragile and diverse ecosystem of Joshua tree forests, ancient plants, unique wildlife, mountains and dry lake beds in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. While development pressures differ in scale from other areas of the state, uncoordinated development patterns are impacting the treasured landscapes, open spaces and vistas that residents value and visitors come to enjoy.

Learn more about our work in the Morongo Basin:

Morongo Report Cover JPG V. 2 for WEb

    Morongo-Alt-Futures-cover sm     Overlay-Ordinance-cover
Conservation Priorities Report -
September 2012
  Alternative Futures Project   Model Wildlife Overlay Ordinance

The Sonoran Institute worked in this area as a member of the Morongo Basin Open Space Group (MBOSG) to protect natural landscapes and open space through regional conservation and land use planning. From 2006-2012 regional governmental agencies, development interests, and environmental and conservation groups worked collaboratively to identify critical priority conservation areas and work with local entities to build a robust local economy that respects our desert landscapes and provides for “Basin-Wise” growth.

The Morongo Basin area in the high desert region of San Bernardino County is defined by the Morongo Unified School District boundary, an area of approximately 1,400 square miles that is home to 75,000 residents, including those living and working at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. Major public land owners include the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Defense, and the National Park Service. Private lands comprise approximately 27 percent of the area and are interspersed throughout, many parcels in checkerboard patterns with BLM lands, reflecting government homesteading programs of the early 20th century.

The Sonoran Institute’s Training and Community Leadership Program contributed to this regional conservation and land use planning effort via:

  • Community engagement, education and outreach through public meetings, public workshops, and speaking engagements;
  • Joint facilitation of regional research projects, including the South Coast Wildlands report “A Linkage Design for the Joshua Tree —Twentynine Palms Connection”;
  • Applications for grants and program support; and
  • Development of research products for use in decision making about where and how growth occurs in the region.


Morongo Basin Wildlife Overlay Ordinance


Model Desert Wildlife Connectivity and Habitat Overlay Ordinance


In 2010, the Sonoran Institute obtained funding from the Patagonia Environmental Grants Program to support the development of a model wildlife protection overlay ordinance for desert regions, with a focus on the project lands of the Morongo Basin Open Space Group. The Morongo Basin Open Space Group recognized wildlife connectivity and habitat in its planning goals and as a regional conservation value. The Patagonia funding supported research to 1) examine existing wildlife protection ordinances and habitat conservation plans; 2) perform a review of existing scientific literature; and 3) conduct preliminary interviews with expert biologists to investigate how to best minimize disturbance to wildlife and protect habitat from fragmentation caused by inappropriate development patterns.

The geographic focus of the funded research has been directed at areas in desert wildlife linkages and adjacent to protected lands. The model ordinance project was continued with support from the Sonoran Institute and designed to use existing successful examples and local expertise to create a science-based model ordinance that will be legally defensible following review and refinement by legal experts.

View the Model Desert Wildlife Connectivity and Habitat Overlay Ordinance - Ordinance Text and User's Manual

Click here for a printer-friendly version

Workshop - Developing a Model Ordinance

MBWildlifeWkshpNew smlThis workshop builds on the regional conservation planning work that the Morongo Basin Open Space Group has been engaged in, focusing on the connectivity for people and wildlife planning goal. The workshop will provide a venue for biologists and planners  to work together to design a desert-appropriate approach to how development occurs in wildlife areas.

A model ordinance is a draft that a city, county or town can use as a starting point for refining its own local code.  We plan to bring biologists and planners to the table to help in drafting this model ordinance, so that the resulting code will be both grounded in science and crafted to enable effective implementation.

Friday November 18, 2011 -  9AM to 4PM

Bell Center - Copper Mountain College
6162 Rotary Way
Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Thank you to: Copper Mountain College for providing the meeting space and staff support; Patagonia Foundation for providing funding for research on existing wildlife protection plans and codes.


Workshop Summary - Eight page summary of workshop discussions Download (705.82 kB)

Presentation - Introduction and general guide to workshop goals and activities Download (1.6 MB)

Workshop Handouts

Agenda Download (63.02 kB)

Draft outline of "strawman ordinance" Download (71.57 kB)

Development impacts matrix worksheet Download (67.41 kB)

Linkage design species list Download (993.87 kB)

Morongo Basin species habitat needs list Download (203.47 kB)

Example ordinance standards Download (1.72 MB)



Planning for People and Wildlife - Summary of June 2011 workshop jointly sponsored by Sonoran Institute and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Links to presentations and other resources.

SCOTie - Successful Communities Online ToolKit - A web resource developed by Western Lands and Communities (a joint venture of Sonoran Institute and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy) to provide communities access to a variety of model plans and policies already in place and working from rural, amenity, and urban communities across the West. Select the categories "Cultural and Natural Resource Assets" and "Wildlife Habitat and Coordior Protection" for relevant wildlife planning resources.


Example WildlifeOrdinances KinaMurphy Summary

Example Wildlife Ordinances Summary of example ordinances that are wildlife friendly. Reviewed and summarized by Kina Murphy


Summary Tables discussing the relationships between regulatory land use controls and wildlife and habitat protection


Wildlife and Habitat Protection Ordinance Summaries examples of different ordinances from the United States that aim to protect wildlife, habitat, and natural areas


Planing for People and Wildlife - A Workbook for Montana's Citizens and Local Officials

Sonoran Institute - 2009



Wildlife Friendly Guidelines - Community and Project Planning 

Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2009



Conservation Thresholds For Land Use Planners

Environmental Law Institute, 2003


Lasting Landscapes: Reflections on the Role of Conservation Science in Land Use Planning

Environmental Law Institute, 2007


Linking Conservation and Land Use Planning: Using the State Wildlife Action Plans to Protect Wildlife from Urbanization

Defenders of Wildlife, 2007


Effects of Exurban Development on Wildlife and Plant Communities

Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, 2007


Wildlife Habitat Planning Strategies, Design Features and Best Management Practices for Florida Communities and Landowners

1000 Friends of Florida


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Morongo Basin Open Space Group Partners, 2006-2012

Basin Wide Foundation
Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency
Building Industry Association, Morongo Basin Chapter
Bureau of Land Management, Barstow Field Office
California Department of Fish and Game
City of Twentynine Palms
Copper Mountain College
Hi-Desert Water District
Joshua Basin Water District
Joshua Tree Municipal Advisory Council
Mojave Desert Land Trust
Morongo Basin Conservation Association
Morongo Basin Property Association
Morongo Valley Community Services District
National Park Service, Joshua Tree National Park
National Parks Conservation Association
San Bernardino County
Sonoran Institute
The Wildlands Conservancy
Town of Yucca Valley
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
United States Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center