Tortoises Handled by BrightSource Facing Hard Times

BrightSource Energy's negative impact on the desert tortoise population in the northeastern Mojave Desert continues to be felt, as tortoises removed from their burrows to make way for bulldozers or other construction equipment continue to go missing or die.  As of August, three tortoises translocated from BrightSource holding pens, and four others recently handled by BrightSource crews have been killed -- at least six of them by coyotes.  The translocated tortoises probably were more vulnerable to predators and other environmental factors after being displaced from their habitat to make way for BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar project.   In May the company reported to the California Energy Commission that six tortoises held in BrightSource's pens went missing, while several tortoises died last year after being attacked by ants in the pens.

Biologists have warned that tortoises relocated from their home territory can be more susceptible to predation, may have difficulty finding water, or may expose themselves to heat or predators as they try and return to their home territory. Translocation of tortoises is simply not an effective measure to mitigate for the impacts of giant solar facilities on intact desert wildlands.

The hundreds of tortoises displaced or handled by the company to make way for the project are just part of the environmental destruction caused by the project.  In July, a female Cooper's hawk was found dead in an area cleared to make way for thousands of mirrors in phase 2 of the project.  The compliance report does not state how close the nearest heliostat mirror was to the dead raptor, which had trauma to its right wing.  

Dozens of bird nests have been lost as desert plants are mowed down, including those of cactus wrens, loggerhead shrike, Le Conte's thrashers, sparrows and ash-throated flycatchers.  A couple of nests remain in phases 1 and 2, whereas more nests still await destruction in phase 3, which has not yet completed vegetation clearing.  Golden eagles have been spotted flying over the BrightSource project site, which used to serve as foraging grounds for the raptors.

The map above submitted by BrightSource Energy to the California Energy Commission shows the locations of remaining bird nests on the project site that will eventually be destroyed.  Many others were found and destroyed during initial vegetation clearing for phases 1 and 2 last year.
Even more mammal burrows--including burrows for kit fox, badgers, and rabbits -- have been discovered and then excavated by BrightSource crews.

This map shows the locations of mammal burrows found throughout the Ivanpah Solar project site over the past year, although many others were identified and excavated before this year. 

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