Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tortoise Toll Mounts at Nevada Solar Project

First Solar's Silver State South project has displaced over 152 desert tortoises, according to data obtained by Basin and Range Watch, and this toll is expected to rise since construction crews have not yet finished bulldozing the threatened animal's habitat.  The Silver State South solar project is being built just east of Primm, Nevada on 3.7 square miles of intact Mojave Desert habitat that biologists have determined to be a key corridor for the desert tortoise - facilitating genetic flow for the species that is important for its survival in the face of many anthropogenic threats, including climate change.

A giant cholla cactus on the site of First Solar's Silver State South Solar project.  This cactus' size suggests it has survived for a long time in the arid and harsh climate of the Mojave Desert, but it will be destroyed to make way for an energy project that allows us to charge our iPhones and run our air conditioners.  The same solar panels that will displace this desert habitat can just as easily, and more efficiently be placed on rooftops or over parking lots.
Of the 152 tortoises displaced, 63 are adult and 89 are juvenile, indicating that First Solar chose a bad location for its solar project.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, the project is expected to displace as many as 115 adult desert tortoises, and the Department of Interior will likely have to halt construction and re-evaluate impacts if the number of adult tortoises found exceeds 107.   Although many of these tortoises will be relocated to other parts of the desert, their chances for survival are dim because they will compete with other tortoises for resources and be more vulnerable to predators.  Environmental groups sought to halt the solar project earlier this year because of its poor location, but failed to secure an injunction from the court.


The Silver State South solar project further underscores the need for better planning and a focus on policies that encourage solar in our cities - such as solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots - rather than solar on desert wildlands.  Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on its Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the southern Nevada region that proposes to encourage energy and mining development on even more of the tortoise's habitat.

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