Protocol for Route Restoration in California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Area

Techniques and Methods 2-A17
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management
By: , and 



In the deserts of the Southwestern United States, increased off-highway vehicle use can lead to widespread vehicular damage to desert ecosystems. As the popularity and intensity of vehicle use on public lands continues, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is challenged to manage the routes used by recreationists while minimizing activity beyond designated routes and mitigating environmental impacts. Ecosystem function and habitat quality can be degraded by vehicle activities, especially when the activities are occurring outside authorized routes or authorized open areas. Restoration mitigates damage to soils and vegetation; however, methods vary across the desert, results appear to be inconsistent, and standardized monitoring plans do not exist. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Land Use Plan Amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area Land Use Plan identified the need for, and directed implementation of, standardized monitoring of restoration, which includes minimizing surface disturbance to agency prescribed levels in areas of critical environmental concern and on California Desert National Conservation Lands. To assist the BLM in implementing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Land Use Plan Amendment, we define ecological restoration as the process of halting or minimizing future degradation while simultaneously assisting the recovery of ecosystem function and community composition in relation to intact reference sites. The monitoring strategies provided in this protocol are used to restore degraded ecosystems after use of non-routes has ceased (non-designated routes or vehicle-caused linear disturbances) by applying techniques to improve edaphic properties, hydrologic function, and biotic community composition. This protocol also provides criteria that can be used to distinguish the status of non-routes and land parcels as “restored” or “disturbed.” This protocol was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with BLM restoration practitioners, to identify standard restoration methods and establish criteria to determine when restoration is achieved. This protocol also develops new methods to increase restoration rates and successes on public lands in the southern California deserts. BLM’s long-term implementation plan for the evaluation of road restoration described in this report is to transition toward managing the work, including developing the workforce and long-term storage and management of the data during the next several years. This report is intended to be regularly updated as the program develops.

Suggested Citation

Esque, T.C., Jackson, K.R., Rice, A.M., Childers, J.K., Woods, C.S., Fesnock-Parker, A., Johnson, A.C., Price, L.J., Forgrave, K.E., Scoles-Sciulla, S.J., and DeFalco, L.A., 2021, Protocol for route restoration in California’s desert renewable energy conservation plan area: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 2-A17, 60 p.,

ISSN: 2328-7055 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Project Planning
  • Route Restoration Protocol
  • Step 1. Study Plot Selection
  • Step 2. Gather Baseline Data
  • Step 3. Determine and Implement Restoration Treatments
  • Step 4. Measure and Evaluate Treatment Effectiveness
  • Step 5. Determine Project Outcome
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Glossary
  • Appendix 1. Data Sheets
  • Appendix 2. Supplemental Methods
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Protocol for route restoration in California’s desert renewable energy conservation plan area
Series title Techniques and Methods
Series number 2-A17
DOI 10.3133/tm2A17
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description viii, 60 p.
Country United States
State California
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details