Maintaining connectivity between large core habitat areas is important for preserving gene flow among individuals of a population. Gene flow promotes higher genetic variability, or heterozygosity, which improves overall fitness of a species. – Biological Resources Technical Report for the Silver State South Solar project.Initial surveys of the proposed Silver State South project site have already revealed a healthy tortoise population – with anywhere from 3 to 27 tortoises per square mile. The local tortoise population apparently experienced a decline four years ago, possibly due to a severe drought, but surveys in 2011 showed that 7% of the tortoises encountered on the project site were juveniles, a sign that the local population may be on the rebound.
The year-long tortoise habitat connectivity study probably started in the spring of 2012, suggesting the research may not be complete before Interior releases the “fast track” environmental impact statement for the project later this year. The draft document almost certainly will select a “preferred alternative” without waiting for the study’s crucial findings, and a final decision could be issued before the research is even complete, assuming the research requires a full year of data collection as noted in the initial biological report.
halted after a judge found that the Department of Interior did not adequately consult with Native American tribes, which stood to lose sacred sites and burial grounds to the project. And in Riverside County, the Genesis Solar power project likely caused an outbreak of deadly canine distemper among desert kit fox, and also threatens to destroy Native American burial grounds that were not identified during the rushed environmental review.
First Solar’s proposed Silver State South solar project is the second phase of a smaller solar facility- Silver State North - that is already in operation in the Ivanpah Valley. That smaller project and BrightSource Energy’s notorious Ivanpah Solar project have already destroyed just under 6 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat. If approved, First Solar’s Silver State South project could push that number to over 10 square miles, wreaking havoc on a remote swath of desert. The Silver State South project footprints under consideration in the Biological Resources Technical Report range from 4 to 6 square miles in size, but the BLM website currently lists the size as 2.2 square miles.
Basin and Range Watch submitted a proposal to classify the Ivanpah Valley as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Ironically, the Department of Interior also acknowledged the conservation value of the Ivanpah Valley when it decided in its Solar Energy Development Program that no further industrial-scale energy development should be permitted in the area to preserve its ecological importance, and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan also labels the Ivanpah Valley as a proposed conservation area. Both of these plans, however, make exceptions for industry proposals on the books before late 2011, which has allowed First Solar to move forward with its Silver State South and Stateline solar projects.
Embedded below is a PDF copy of the list of plant and animal species observed in the desert where First Solar plans to build the Silver State South project. The list is a result of surveys conducted by Ironwood Consulting as part of the Biological Technical Resources Report.
Silver State South Species List