Many of you have probably read that the Federal Government promised $1.4 billion in loan guarantees for BrightSource Energy's proposed solar site in the Mojave Desert's Ivanpah Valley. Even though the California Energy Commission (CEC) has not yet made a final decision regarding whether or not to approve the solar site, the political pressure is clearly in favor of BrightSource despite the biological importance of the site (read more about the importance here). The CEC's "Presiding Member" is due to make a final decision regarding the Ivanpah proposal soon, which will be one of many decisions made by our elected officials or policymaking bodies over the next year that could make this a critical year for the Mojave. In addition to Ivanpah, you can expect the CEC to also make a decision regarding the future of several more large energy sites, to include Ridgecrest, Abengoa, and Calico in the Mojave, and Blythe, Palen, Rice and Solar Two sites in the Colorado Desert. In addition to CEC's efforts, the Federal Government is moving forward in its consideration of Solar Energy Development Zones which would further encourage industrialization in the Mojave.
Meanwhile, population centers all around the Mojave continue to erode the stability of this desert. Las Vegas and Primm are still intent on a large airport in the Ivanpah Valley, and private developers received financial backing from a Chinese bank to develop a Maglev train linking Victorville and Las Vegas. San Bernardino County has not abandoned plans to build the "inter-county connector," a multi-lane highway linking Victorville and Palmdale that would span the western Mojave and bring with it economic development incentives, turning quiet solitude into warehouses and business parks. Fort Irwin is looking to cement its southward expansion with a potentially disastrous desert tortoise relocation program--although leaving the tortoises in the path of tanks is not an option either.
The primary effort to provide balance to this chaotic rush to develop Mojave wilderness is Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010), which is already meeting opposition from those who believe it would lock up too much land and prevent its economic or military uses. What looked to be a friendly legislative environment in Washington for conservation efforts in early 2009 has turned into an arena full of doubt and political priorities that eclipse CDPA 2010, let alone wise management of public lands. If CDPA 2010 is to stand a chance, America's elected officials will have to be convinced that preserving Mojave wilderness stands for more than "locking up" sensitive habitat. In these economic times people will choose jobs over tortoises. In fact, preserving Mojave wilderness at this juncture, which CDPA aims to do, is just sensible land management. Economic and military uses of the Mojave do not come to a halt if CDPA is passed. They are in fact growing, which is why preserving our inspiring natural heritage is so important.
We have already learned that wilderness can be undone. The animal that graces California's State flag is a haunting reminder of that fact. But if our policymakers and elected officials choose to pave over Ivanpah Valley, mine in Old Woman Mountains, or put up a solar plant in a quiet wilderness that brought peace to generations of Americans, then they do so relegating the immeasurable and boundless value of many Mojave treasures to the confines of photographs and text that fall far short of capturing what is lost.