Saturday, April 9, 2016

Interior Approval Threatens Mojave Wildlife

Interior this month signed the Record of Decision formally approving the Soda Mountain Solar project, despite landscape-level planning that identified this area as a significant opportunity to connect otherwise isolated bighorn sheep populations.  If Bechtel finds a utility company willing to purchase power from the 287 MW project, it will bulldoze nearly 4 square miles of intact desert next to the Mojave National Preserve to install photovoltaic panels that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already disturbed lands (more than 400 MW of rooftop solar capacity was installed in the first three months of 2015, alone).

These bighorn sheep are part of a large herd that inhabit the Soda Mountains. Their water source and foraging habitat would be jeopardized by the Soda Mountain Solar project if it is built, and an opportunity to connect this herd with the historical range of the bighorn sheep may be threatened by construction of the project.
Interior delayed issuing the record of decision for almost a year after it published a final environmental assessment, underscoring the difficulty Interior has faced trying to say yes to this unnecessary and controversial project. The area that would be bulldozed currently provides foraging habitat for bighorn sheep, and the water pumped by the project could threaten natural springs that wildlife - including the endangered Mojave Tui Chub - depend upon.  According to biological surveys, the site is inhabited by burrowing owls, kit fox, badgers, kangaroo rats, lesser nighthawk, Bewick' wren, Say's phoebe, and desert tortoises.  The area also provides forage for Townsend's big-eared, canyon, hoary, and Mexican free-tailed bats.

A detailed list of wildlife species observed or detected on the desert habitat targeted by Bechtel is available below.



The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which owns the nearest transmission lines to the Soda Mountain site, has already said it would not purchase power from the project because of its environmental impact.  However, Bechtel could still request permission to use the transmission lines to deliver power to another buyer.

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