Tortoises Lose Key Habitat
According to construction monitoring reports, First Solar has already translocated at least 16 tortoises - 8 adults and 8 juveniles - from the first phase of construction, which may be an area of approximately 500-700 acres (the final environmental impact statement indicated "zone 1" of construction would be 509 acres, although the current Notice to Proceed covers 693 acres). Among the 16 tortoises, one happened to survive being "unearthed" by a bulldozer, and only noticed by a monitor after the tractor had passed. The incident is a testament to the likelihood that some tortoises - especially juveniles - are missed by pre-construction surveys and will be killed during the course of construction.
The first phase appears to be an area of desert habitat closer to the Ivanpah Dry Lake bed, which would typically support fewer tortoises compared to the other portions of the Stateline Solar site, so we may see a higher density of tortoises displaced by the next phases of construction. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Stateline project, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates as many as 37 adult tortoises may be impacted by the project, although many more juveniles are expected to be displaced or killed.
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimate may not count tortoises that are "passively relocated" during construction. In other words, if a tortoise is found walking into the construction area, it will simply be placed outside of the new tortoise fence that excludes the animals from the habitat that is now being destroyed. This can lead some tortoises to pace along the fence and die of heat stress, or place them at higher risk of predation if they no longer have access to a burrow on the other side of the fence. At least one tortoise has been found pacing the new tortoise fence at Stateline.
|A view of the desert that will be destroyed by First Solar for the Stateline Solar project, as photographed from Metamorphic Hill.|
Beyond tortoises, the construction activity has begun to destroy and displace other wildlife dependent upon, and critical to the vitality of this corner of the desert. Construction activity likely forced at least one kit fox den to be abandoned, and another active kit fox den with pups is likely to be disturbed in a future phase of construction. A burrow is now being monitored after crews discovered recent sign of use by western burrowing owls; no matter where the owls are now, there will not have a burrow to return to next year. The first phase of construction is also impacting an area with the highest density of pink funnel lily, a rare desert wildflower.
The rich diversity of wildlife being displaced or killed in the Ivanpah Valley is a stark counterpoint to the arguments put forward by industry that the desert is a wasteland, and a testament to the qualities that make the desert worth protecting.