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Desert Wildlands Need Your Voice in Vegas

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is hosting two public meetings on plans to mow down nearly 11 square miles of intact desert wildlands to build the Gemini Solar power project, which would be located northeast of Las Vegas along the entrance road to Valley of Fire State Park.  It will be very important for concerned citizens to attend because most environmental groups have taken a muted stance on the project, even though it is expected to displace up to 260 desert tortoises, and wipe out beavertail and silver cholla cacti, burrowing owl nesting locations and imperil a rare plant found in only a few places in the Mojave.

Any member of the public is welcome to attend the meetings, and public comment sessions are during the last hour of each session:

Public Meeting #1 - Las Vegas
When: Tuesday, July 23rd, 5:00 - 8:00 PM
Where: Suncoast Hotel and Casino, 9090 Alta Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89145

Public Meeting #2 - Moapa
When:Wednesday, July 24th, 5:30 - 8:30 PM
Where:Moapa Community Center, 1340 Ea…

Green Groups Silent as Solar Company Plans Destruction of Mojave Wildlands

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The Department of Interior in early June released its draft environmental review indicating that plans to replace 11 square miles of intact desert wildlands in southern Nevada with the Gemini Solar project would result in significant impacts on wildlife and outdoor recreation.   The project proposed by Arevia Power would install photovoltaic solar panels on land that is currently home to rare plants, desert kit fox, tortoises and other wildlife.  Photovoltaic solar panels are just as easily installed on rooftops, parking lot canopies, and on already-disturbed lands, calling in to question the need to sacrifice desert wildlands to generate electricity. (California has installed over 8,000 megawatts of distributed solar generation with relatively modest policy incentives.)

Arevia Power's plans to destroy these Mojave wildlands will displace or kill nearly at least 260 desert tortoises, and dozens of kit foxes and burrowing owls, according to the draft environmental impact stateme…

Nevada Ballot Measure a Catch-22 for the Mojave

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"As we focus on climate change, we must also act decisively to protect the living world while we still have time. It would be humanity’s ultimate achievement." - E.O. Wilson Nevada is poised to vote on whether to increase its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) - the share of electricity required to come from renewable sources - to 50% by the year 2030, without any plan for protecting Nevada's increasingly vulnerable wildlands. An increased RPS without corresponding plans to protect wildlands is sure to spur a second rush of solar and wind projects, but continuing to burn fossil fuels will compound the ongoing harmful effects of climate change on that same landscape.  A more sensible path - providing stronger incentives for solar on rooftops and over parking lots and diverting larger projects to already-disturbed lands - has eluded the state's policymakers and environmental groups. 
The ballot measure - Question 6 - will essentially authorize Nevada's…

Gemini Solar Project Threatens Vibrant Ecosystem

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The Gemini Solar project proposed for desert wildlands next to the Valley of Fire State Park could displace or kill over 260 desert tortoises and dozens of kit foxes, American badgers and western burrowing owls, according to recently released wildlife surveys (1, 2). Climate change poses an urgent threat to these same wildlife, but it is inexcusable to bulldoze wildlands to install the same solar panels that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or already-disturbed lands.  If we are destroying wildlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then we are perpetuating the stunningly short-sighted sacrifice of nature to continue feeding otherwise unsustainable consumption, despite readily available options that have much lower impact on wildlife.


Wildlife Surveys Highlight Poor Location Choice for Solar Project

Biologists conducted two surveys in 2018 and 2017 and discovered that the proposed Gemini Solar project site currently hosts a diverse array of wildlife.  Based on the surveys,…

Proposed Gold Mine Threatens Remote Wildlands, Tests Conservation Designation

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Canadian firm SSR Mining plans to drill samples in the Conglomerate Mesa area just east of Owens Lake in the Inyo Mountains, and eventually open a giant gold mine there.  The lands that the company wants to destroy are not just popular among outdoors enthusiasts, they have also been designated by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Conservation Lands (NCL) system.   How the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) handles the mine proposal could test the purpose and durability of the NCL designation that we were told would protect our desert wildlands from industrial-scale destruction.


The BLM just received public comments on a draft environmental assessment for the Perdito exploratory drilling project.  If the company drills for samples and deems the area lucrative,  it could build miles of new roads, bring in heavy equipment to excavate a large strip mine, and use a toxic cyanide leaching process to extract gold.  That plan would drastically alter the rugged backcountry tha…

The Future of Our Public Lands in a Photo Contest

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The Department of Interior, after announcing plans to review and potentially scale back protections for public lands, just re-posted the 2016 winner of its "Share the Experience" photo contest in the category of "scenic landscape."  It is indeed a beautiful photo of Fantasy Canyon on public lands in Utah.  But I have to wonder if the Secretary of Interior is sending a signal about the future of scenic landscapes by sending this around on social media today.  Had the photographer zoomed out much more, they would have revealed a landscape that not many of us consider scenic.

Fantasy Canyon is a small parcel - about ten acres - of land surrounded by dozens of square miles of oil drilling rigs and mining.



The Absurdity of the Cadiz Water Export Scheme

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The Department of Interior this month reversed a policy to make it easier for the Cadiz company to pump billions of gallons of water from an ancient Mojave Desert aquifer - killing off natural springs that wildlife depend upon - to ship that water to the lush landscaping of Orange County.   Cadiz still has other hurdles in its way, but the company's tenacity and willingness to line the pockets of politicians could spell doom for Mojave wildlife.

Cadiz Calls it Conservation
The Cadiz company has a contract to export nearly 16.3 billion gallons (yes, that is billion with a 'b') a year for 50 years from the Mojave to the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) in Orange County.  The Cadiz company claims that it will only pump water that would otherwise evaporate from a dry lake bed and that the aquifer will naturally recharge from rainfall, leaving no significant impacts on wildlife or groundwater levels.  According to Cadiz propaganda, this isn't a water export scheme, bu…

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…

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…