According to the Press-Enterprise, a female desert tortoise was released back into the wild last week after repeatedly attempting to escape from her cage on the site of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, where 127 tortoises remain in captivity after they were cleared from desert that has since been destroyed for the energy facility. The Press-Enterprise journalist accompanied Federal officials during the release of the tortoise near Clark Mountain in an area north of the solar project. The remaining 127 tortoises probably will be released after winter. The negative impact on tortoises is expected to increase, as BrightSource Energy has begun clearing more tortoises from ecologically important desert habitat ahead of the bulldozers.
Unfortunately, many tortoises relocated from their original homes are unlikely to survive. Tortoises relocated from a military training site in the Mojave Desert were monitored by biologists, and nearly half of them perished within two years. Tortoises become very familiar with necessities available in their home range, such as good shade spots, and depressions in the ground where they can drink after a thunderstorm. Removing them from their home range probably adds a lot of stress and makes them more vulnerable to predators. In fact, tortoises displaced from the BrightSource Energy project site but not placed in captivity have been found wandering along the fence line, probably seeking to return to a burrow that has since been destroyed. At least one tortoise died of exposure after wandering along the fenceline, according to a California Energy Commission compliance report.
Despite warnings from desert biology experts and concerned citizens, BrightSource Energy was adamant about building its solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, which hosts a robust and healthy desert tortoise population on relatively undisturbed habitat. Another solar company, First Solar, is now proposing to build two other massive facilities despite ongoing concerns and opposition. The companies should consider already-disturbed lands, or investing in rooftop solar programs, instead of building on ecologically intact wildlands.