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Showing posts from 2016

Desert Monuments Anchor a Legacy as Future Looks Uncertain

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President Obama designated two new desert monuments yesterday - Gold Butte in Nevada, and Bears Ears in Utah - barring unnecessary destruction on 1.65 million acres of public lands and preserving these landscapes of significance for recreation opportunities, cultural heritage, and wildlife.  The President's proclamation adds to several other desert monuments he has designated, including: Mojave Trails, Sand-to-Snow, and Castle Mountains in California, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, and Basin and Range in Nevada.  (For an excellent resource on things to see and how to get around Gold Butte in Nevada, check out the birdandhike website.)


Conservation designations are a smart move as we find ourselves in the midst of a wildlife extinction crisis driven largely by habitat loss.  Biologist Edward Wilson has even proposed that a far more aggressive conservation effort is needed than the current pace of occasional monument designations.  But the polit…

What Does A Trump Administration Mean for the Desert?

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The outlook for desert wildlands is dismal under a Trump Administration, and we will have to be even more vigilant and vocal to stop Washington from undermining the legal and administrative pillars that protect our public lands and wildlife and to keep  bulldozers off of intact habitat.  I have been critical of some of the Obama Administration's choices and policies regarding wildlife and wildlands, but there was always give and take within the bounds of existing laws and a relatively strong role for science in how policies were formulated; that probably will not be the case under Trump.

Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress probably will slow or reverse progress we have made greenhouse gas emissions, and they will severely weaken or eliminate the legal and bureaucratic institutions that protect our wildlands and wildlife.  Science will be ignored in policy formulation and decision making. Budgets for the folks at the Department of Interior and the Environmental …

Does The Military Really Need More Desert Bombing Ranges?

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The Department of Defense's recent request to close off additional public lands in Nevada is simply unreasonable in light of the vast amount of land already available to the military for testing and training purposes.  The military is preparing to ask Congress to expand two of its test and training ranges in Nevada by as much as 1,416 square miles, including portions of popular public lands outside of Las Vegas. 

The military has not explained why the 21,000 square miles of existing test and training ranges throughout the southwestern states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico are not sufficient (this total does not count other training ranges in other states and the Pacific Ocean, or smaller military facilities in the southwestern states). At this early stage in the environmental review process, the military has only explained that expanding the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR) would “improve the range’s capacity to support testing and training.” For the prop…

What to Watch For in the DRECP Announcement

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Air Force May Reduce Public Access in Nevada Wildlife Refuge

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The Department of the Air Force is proposing to withdrawal an additional 301,507 acres (approximately 471 square miles) of public land to expand the already-massive Nevada Test and Training Range.  The proposed withdraw will likely involve restricting public access and degrading important wildlife habitat, including lands in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge near Las Vegas, and also parcels in the upper Amargosa Valley north of Beatty, Nevada (see map below).   This effort is separate from proposed legislation currently sitting in Congress that would withdrawal even more land from the Refuge.

The Air Force is in the initial stages of its environmental review process, and will be sharing more details about its plans at public scoping meetings in October.  However, a study conducted for the Air Force and published online earlier this year suggests the Air Force wants greater flexibility to place ground targets in lands in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.  It is not clear why the e…

County Rejects Environmental Certification of Soda Mountain Solar

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The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject the environmental analysis of the Soda Mountain Solar project, placing a significant hurdle in the path of a project that would have threatened important wildlife habitat next to the Mojave National Preserve.  Supervisors Lovingood, Gonzales, and Rutherford expressed concern during a lengthy meeting today that the environmental analysis was inadequate and did not address the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's input regarding impacts on desert bighorn sheep.  During closing comments, Supervisor Lovingood pointed out that projects of this scale would be better located on already-disturbed lands in the County, and mentioned specific sites as examples.

Regenerate Power,  the company that now owns the Soda Mountain Solar proposal after corporate behemoth Bechtel pulled out of the project, proposed to build the project along Interstate-15 and next to the Mojave National Preserve.  However, the location chosen …

Road to Recovery for Declining Tortoise Population Increasingly Narrow

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The desert tortoise population continues to experience a significant decline, despite 26 years of recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act.  Since 2004 - years into the recovery effort - the overall population has declined by nearly 32%, and the decline is even steeper in certain portions of the tortoise's range.

This startling trend is not evident in the Department of Interior's public posture, which is optimistic on the ability of landscape-level planning to protect habitat linkages and project-level mitigation to offset local population losses.  A closer examination of land management and mitigation practices calls into question Interior's resolve to arrest the decline of the desert tortoise as its habitat becomes increasingly fragmented.


Tortoise Population Spirals Downward
When the desert tortoise was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, initial research and anecdotal evidence suggested human impacts were chiefly responsible for d…

Yellow Pine Project Threatens Wildlands in Nevada

NextEra Energy is proposing to build a 250 megawatt solar project in Nevada's Pahrump Valley that would destroy 4.6 square miles of intact desert habitat on public land.  The project would further push the distance that residents of the Las Vegas area will travel to experience desert wildlands not scarred by industrial-scale energy projects.  The Ivanpah, El Dorado, and Moapa areas to the south and north of Las Vegas have lost approximately 21 square miles of desert habitat to industrial-scale solar development in the past few years.


Approximate area under consideration by NextEra for the Yellow Pine Solar project in the Pahrump Valley.  The total application area covers over 9,000 acres, and the final project would destroy approximately 3,000 acres of the parcel.
Some of the lands being considered for the project host desert tortoises already relocated once from a Clark County sanctuary, meaning the animals that survived the initial translocation will again be jeopardized, accord…

Eagle Mountain: Confronting the Industrial Juggernauts

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Please Take Action:  Send an e-mail by May 27, 2016 to " JOTR_Study@NPS.gov " asking the National Park Service to restore the maximum allowable acreage of the Eagle Mountain area to Joshua Tree National Park.

The National Park Service is considering restoring lands removed from what was then Joshua Tree National Monument in the 1950s (it did not become a National Park until 1994), but that restoration may not stop one more giant industrial project from moving forward in the Eagle Mountain area.   The land in question was originally removed from the Monument by Congress to allow for the expansion of the Eagle Mountain Mine, but that mine is no longer in operation.  Although the massive open pit remains, surrounding desert wildlands still provide important habitat for wildlife, including an important desert bighorn sheep corridor.  The Park Service is accepting public comments until May 27, 2016.

Mining, Sanitation, and now Energy Industries Stake Claims on Joshua Tree'…