DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. -

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has signed the Major Amendment of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission announced Thursday.

The department's three signatures were the last step needed to finalize the Major Amendment, which incorporates the City of Desert Hot Springs and the Mission Springs Water District into the Plan, the CVCC said in a news release.

"This is a momentous occasion. After years of hard work and collaboration, we truly have a plan that encompasses the entire Coachella Valley, ensuring threatened and endangered species will have the habitat they need to prosper," said Rancho Mirage Councilman Richard W. Kite, who is Chairman of the CVCC.

"We are grateful to everyone who made this amendment possible, especially our partners at the City of Desert Hot Springs, Mission Springs Water District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife," Kite concluded.

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas added, "We're thrilled that we now have the final approval of the Major Amendment. We look forward to working with the CVCC and the cities throughout the Coachella Valley to achieve a balance between growth and conservation."

The CVCC - a sister agency to the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) - celebrated the final approval of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (CVMSHCP) in October 2008. The visionary 75-year plan outlines a path to conserve nearly 240,000 acres of land valleywide and protect 27 plants and animals, including Peninsular bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, according to the CVCC's release.

In exchange for guaranteeing habitat conservation, developers benefit from a streamlined environmental permit process and critical freeway projects and interchanges can get built without delays, officials said.

The City of Desert Hot Springs was involved in the early stages of shaping the CVMSHCP, but a past city council ultimately opted not to join. In recent years, the CVCC worked collaboratively with the City and the Mission Springs Water District to conduct the environmental studies necessary to amend the Plan.

The City will immediately begin collecting the standard impact fee on new residential and commercial development, and the fees in other cities will go down about 8 percent. The CVCC is ahead of schedule in terms of land acquisition, which includes significant properties in Desert Hot Springs. To date, the CVCC and its partners have secured more than 87,000 acres of
core habitat and sand transport areas, according to officials.

The completion of the Major Amendment will be formally recognized by the CVCC when the Commission meets on September 8.

View more information about the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.