The Department of Interior, California Energy Commission, and First Solar have filed notices in opposition to Defenders of Wildlife, claiming that the projects are critical components of Federal and State renewable energy programs, but failing to justify why these two projects must be built on such important wildlife habitat. First Solar and other companies have built even larger solar projects on already-disturbed lands in California and Arizona, calling into question the wisdom of building the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects on a narrow habitat linkage that the Department of Interior's own Solar Energy Development Program has since identified as an exclusion zone for large-scale solar energy development because of its importance to wildlife.
It is clear that the Department of Interior does not know whether Silver State South Solar will have a long-term impact on habitat connectivity for the desert tortoise, which is why studies will be conducted after the projects are built to determine what impact they will have on the viability of the tortoise habitat linkage. And if the studies determine there is a negative impact, Interior does not know what steps it will take to restore the linkage. Even the Fish and Wildlife Service's own biological opinion declares that irreparable harm is a potential outcome of the Silver State South solar project:
"Although the loss of habitat would occur in a relatively short time and be clearly visible, loss or degradation of connectivity would likely not occur for several years and be more difficult to detect."
If the connectivity is degraded, the biological opinion states that:
"demographic stochasticity and genetic deterioration likely [to] diminish the potential for population growth."
And Interior's own recovery plan for the desert tortoise states that habitat fragmentation places isolated populations:
"...at higher risk of localized extirpation from stochastic events or from inbreeding depression (Boarman et al. 1997; Boarman and Sazaki 2006)."
Furthermore, the Obama administration's own National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy identifies protecting critical wildlife linkages and minimizing impacts from renewable energy development on wildlife habitat as key goals.
If the U.S. District Court does not grant injunctive relief, First Solar may begin disturbing tortoise habitat on April 3, 2014.