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Showing posts from June, 2010

Renewable Energy Action Team Fund Established

An inter-agency forum known as the Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) seeking to streamline the renewable energy permitting process in California has succeeded in establishing a fund to centralize conservation funds that offset the impact of energy development.  The REAT is composed of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the California Energy Commission (CEC), as I noted in a previous post on the topic.  Among the policy tools REAT hopes to implement is the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which would provide a framework for implementing regionally coordinated land acquisition and mitigation to off-set the negative affects of the renewable energy rush on desert biological resources.  The DRECP is not expect to be completed until 2012, however.

One of the REAT's policy goals was to establish a central fund to which renewable energy developers would pay their required mitigation fees--…

Name that Bird part Two

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I'm posting a couple more photos of the unidentified bird from my previous post to see if it helps anyone in their identification of the species.   One commenter suggested that it perhaps could have been a black-throated gray warbler.  I'm no expert so I could not completely discard this possibility, but the images online for the warbler show more distinct black and white patterns than the bird in my photo, which is mostly gray with the only visible patter being the blue and white streaks by the eyes.   Welcome more comments/ideas.

Name that Bird

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If you have any guesses as to what species of bird is perched on the cholla cactus in the picture below, feel free to leave a comment.  I got a picture of it from a distance, but I'm not sure what species of bird I captured in the photo.  The photo was taken in the western Mojave National Preserve.  Note the streaks of blue and white by its eyes.


Granite Mountain Wind Project Cuts Into Bendire's Thrasher ACEC

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According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Granite Mountain Wind Energy project, part of the project's footprint and the access roads would interfere with the Bendire's Thrasher Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).  The Granite Mountain Wind Energy Project is being proposed for the hills on the outskirts of Apple Valley by Granite Wind LLC.

The Bendire's Thrasher is a threatened species deemed by ornithologists to be so rare that it is difficult to properly assess its recent population trends, although sufficient data suggests that the population has declined approximately 34% since 1966.  The bird's habitat is threatened by urbanization, loss of Joshua Trees, and Off-highway vehicle use resulting in habitat degradation.

Although the Granite Wind Energy project may not be as destructive as other industrial-scale energy projects proposed for the Mojave Desert--such as the Calico Solar Project or the Ridgecrest Solar Power project--it does no…

Mojave Narrows Regional Park

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I took this photo a while back at Mojave Narrows Regional Park.  The lake at Mojave Narrows is man made but it draws from the natural Mojave River, which Indian Americans relied upon for ages before the current cities within the Victor Valley began to draw upon its water and the underground aquifers.  I have been slowly making my way through Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert, which at one point discusses the migratory birds that previously found stopover points at various natural watering holes throughout the arid Southwest.  Government decisions led to the destruction of some of these vital desert waterways to divert water to agricultural use, forcing birds to change their migratory patterns or possibly even jeopardizing their populations.   Such poor policy decisions regarding natural resources in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts may sound familiar.  If the vast number of solar energy sites are constructed in the area, not only will they deprive us of open desert vistas and desert w…

Solar Millenium Study Casts Doubt on Desert Tortoise Significance

Solar Millennium presented the results of a study that it presumably funded regarding the desert tortoise population on the proposed site of the Ridgecrest Solar Power project.  As noted in previous posts, the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff judged that construction on the proposed site would incur harm to the threatened Mohave Ground Squirrel and endangered desert tortoise that could not be corrected by mitigation efforts, and recommended against the project.  Solar Millenium's study, however,  supports its desire to build on the site and argues that the tortoise population present on the site is not worth preserving.

The Study's Findings:
According to the Solar Millennium study, the density of the desert tortoise population on the Ridgecrest site is not significant based on surveys of the West Mojave conducted in 1999.   The study makes this judgment by citing previous surveys (1999 and older) that suggest the desert tortoise population on the Ridgecrest site is comp…

Mohave Ground Squirrel Considered for Endangered Species Listing

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The Department of Interior is currently considering a petition by Defenders of Wildlife to list the Mohave Ground Squirrel as an endangered species.  The Mohave Ground Squirrel--whose range spans portions of the western and north-western Mojave Desert--is currently listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act, but it is not recognized under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

I have to take this opportunity to correct mistaken references to the Mohave Ground Squirrel (MGS; alternatively: Mojave Ground Squirrel) on this blog as an "endangered species," even though it has not technically been listed as such under Federal authorities. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)--part of the Department of the Interior--has deemed the petition contains substantial information indicating that listing the MGS as an endangered species may be warranted.    According to the Federal Register (April 27, 2010; Vol 75, Number 80), the USFWS is soliciting scie…

Solar Millennium Intent on Building on Poorly Chosen Ridgecrest Site

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Despite an array of potentially disastrous impacts on Mojave Desert species, water resources for the community of Ridgecrest, and even the risk of spreading Valley Fever among residents, Solar Millennium LLC appears intent to build the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power project.   During a 17 May status conference, Solar Millennium demanded clarity from the CEC and wildlife agencies on specifically what mitigation measures could be instituted to overcome the biological impacts.  I previously posted on the Ridgecrest project in March after the California Energy Commission (CEC) issued a preliminary assessment recommending against construction on the site, claiming that no mitigation measures--habitat restoration, translocation of tortoises, etc--would adequately make up for the damage Solar Millennium would incur on our natural resources.

The site is home to a high density population of desert tortoise--to include a healthy juvenile tortoise population--and the site functions as a key cor…

What Next for the California Desert Protection Act?

The mid-May Senate hearing for the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921) was a positive step for the legislation proposed by Senator Feinstein, considering most proposed legislation never makes it beyond the committee.   However, the hearings revealed technical objections from government agencies and some deeper concerns expressed by fellow Senators on the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources.   As noted in a previous post, the legislative calendar and political dynamics outside of California could eclipse the need for near-term sensible land management in the Mojave Desert, and CDPA may not even get the attention it deserves until next year. 

If Senator Feinstein's office can work with the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture to quickly incorporate the technical modifications sought by these agencies during the hearings, the Senator will still face more hurdles before the bill can be put to the full Senate before Congr…

Granite Wind Energy Project Comment Period...

Someone recently commented on a blog post regarding the impact of wind energy on bats that the comment period for the Granite Wind Energy project proposed for the Apple Valley/Barstow area will close on 01 July.  I have been meaning to catch up with the wind energy projects in the Mojave Desert and should have a post on this soon, but I wanted to share this in the meantime.

New Layout for Calico Solar Project May Not Provide Adequate Wildlife Corridor

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Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems, the companies proposing to build the Calico Solar Power project in the Mojave Desert, filed details on an alternative layout for the site with the California Energy Commission (CEC).  Although the companies claim that the reduced site footprint provides a 4000 foot wildlife corridor between the solar project and the Cady Mountains to allow desert tortoise and other species passage through the area, the maps presented in the documents filed with the CEC suggest that the layout falls short of this goal.

The Calico Solar Project is currently the largest solar project proposed for the Mojave Desert that is currently under review by the CEC and Bureau of Land Management for approval.  The project would be built on public land and would be partially funded by the taxpayers.  The original proposed project would take up 8,230 acres, and potentially displace or kill at least 100 desert tortoises, and jeopardize the white-margined beardtongue, a rare p…

The Sunset Glow of the Cholla Cactus

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I got these shots of cholla cactus near the Granite Hills in the Mojave National Preserve practically glowing as the sun set, which provided a back light to their needles.


San Bernardino County Opposes Desert Conservation?

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The San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department recently filed their response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Calico Solar Project, located east of Newberry Springs.  If I am reading it correctly, the County explicitly opposes long-term conservation of Mojave Desert habitat as a means to off-set the negative impacts of industrial scale development. 

The County comments stirred some though on just what a deal energy companies are getting by developing on public land, and how the County's argument cheapens the value of open space for future generations.  As many of you already know, the California Energy Commission (CEC) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) may require a developer to fund or purchase private land that contains suitable desert habitat and set it aside for conservation.  This is required because the developers are applying to bulldoze thousands of acres of natural resources on public land essentially because they are too lazy or gre…

Desert Blooms

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My brother Todd took some photos during a recent bike ride in the desert around Hesperia.  The rains this year seem to have prolonged a colorful Mojave landscape.

Calico Solar Site to Be Altered?

According to the Daily Press, the Calico Solar Project originally proposed for nearly 8,230 acres east of Newberry Springs at the foot of the Cady Mountains will be altered to reduce its footprint.  I have not yet found any documentation for the altered proposal at the California Energy Commission (CEC) or the Tessera Solar (the parent company) website, but I will post details from the primary source as soon as they become available.

The Calico Solar proposed site would be reduced by 2,000 acres in order to avoid land designated as Desert Tortoise Recovery Area, and the altered site would supposedly maintain a wildlife corridor.  According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project--released by the CEC in March--the Calico site is home to at least one hundred desert tortoises.  The altered footprint may spare some of those tortoises, but the site also is home to several other status species, which you can read about in my previous post on the topic.

I'll pass alon…

Ranking Member of Senate Committee Guards Energy Companies

Reviewing the transcripts from the 20 May Senate hearing on the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921),  the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource's opening comments struck me as ill-informed, and as knee-jerk opposition that assumes the effort to protect public land is somehow more reckless than the chaotic "gold rush" effort by energy companies to bulldoze pristine Mojave wilderness.  In her comments, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) stated that the proposed legislation would "encumber" renewable energy development and take land off the table before the government had a chance to determine whether or not it would be suitable for renewable energy development.

Murkowski's argument was flawed for a few reasons:
1.) CDPA 2010's proposed national monuments and wilderness areas donot affect the Department of Energy's solar energy study zones, which are the only lands currently being evaluated by the Federa…