Saturday, October 9, 2010

Destruction in Ivanpah Begins; Future of Tortoise in Doubt

Billed as a progressive project to replace carbon emitting coal plants with solar power, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (known as Ivanpah SEGS) has been approved by the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   The Ivanpah project is the product of years of false advertising and bureaucratic acrobatics that neglect to admit the true costs of industrial-scale solar energy.  The project likely will displace or kill approximately 30 desert tortoises according to a BLM report, degrade a critical genetic linkage that helps to sustain a healthy desert tortoise population across the Mojave Desert, and destroy thousands of acres of ancient creosote scrub habitat with a high density of rare desert wildflowers. 

So why was it approved?  According to the CEC and BLM, the projects significant environmental damage would be mitigated by the removal of desert tortoises before construction, and the purchase and conservation of habitat elsewhere in the Mojave.  The decision, however, is shortsighted since it ignores the fact that the impacts of the project will last for centuries after the Ivanpah project closes down in 45 years.  Even with conservation land set aside, the tortoises that are translocated are unlikely to survive according to results of a separate translocation at a nearby military base.  Tortoises that are moved are placed in unfamiliar territory, where they may not have an established burrow or drinking spots, and may not know where desert plants will bloom after rains.  This leaves them more vulnerable to disease and predators, to include coyotes and ravens.

What the Ivanpah Valley will look like after nearly 4,000 acres are bladed for construction. Image from BLM FEIS.
The pre-construction surveys are already underway, and this time next year the Ivanpah Valley will be scarred, and the health of its wildlife population in peril.  Below is a great write-up by Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times, which was also highlighted on Mr. Clarke's Coyote Crossing blog .

More than 100 biologists and contract workers fanned out across a nearly pristine stretch of the eastern Mojave Desert on Friday to start rounding up tortoises blocking construction of the first major solar energy plant to be built on public land in Southern California.
On a sunny morning in the height of tortoise courting season, the biologists methodically peered under every bush and into every hole on both sides of a two-mile lane traversing the project site. Following close behind, workers bladed century-old creosote bushes and erected fencing in areas that will soon be declared a “tortoise-free zones.”
The effort in San Bernardino County’s panoramic Ivanpah Valley, just north of Interstate 15 and about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas, disrupted complex tortoise social networks and blood lines linked for centuries by dusty trails, shelters and hibernation burrows.

3 comments:

  1. I beleive the removal of the Endangered California Tortoise from the land where it was supposed to be protected is one of the worst things I have seen in California in my life time. It was brought on by greed, ignorance and by stupid people that do not care about anything except what they want. There where other places to have done this that would not have put the Tortoise in danger. Why was the project not give to a United States Company?

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  2. YOu think this is "scarred"? Take a look at Canada's tar sands. THAT's scarred. 30 tortoises is nothing compared to THAT mess. Seriously, I'm a nature conservation supporter, NRDC and NWF, but his is FAR better than THAT.

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  3. Thanks Anonymous. This is actually just the beginning. This is only a fraction of the land that will be cleared for the BrightSource site. And if we decide to build enough utility-scale solar to meet all of California's energy needs? That will require over 600 square miles of public land.

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