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Showing posts with the label Colorado Desert

Desert Conservation Languishes As Industrial Uses Expand

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As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to facilitate the march of industry into relatively remote corners of America's desert wildlands, efforts to set aside these natural treasures are slow going as Congress has been jammed up by partisan squabbling, and the President has been shy about using his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate monuments.   Waiting for conservation by executive or legislative action may seem worthwhile when you consider that those protections will be more permanent, but what seems to be most lacking in our deserts is proactive conservation through the land management process administered by the BLM; other than islands of critical habitat designated for some endangered species, land use management plans seem to do little to prevent industrial-scale development on land considered to hold important wildlife, scenic and recreation values.

New Mexico Gets a Monument, and May Get A Second This Year

Despite the President's overall reluctanc…

Update on Utility-Scale Energy Projects in the Desert

Although distributed generation continues to chart a sustainable path to produce clean energy, many poorly-sited renewable energy projects threaten to continue the fragmentation and industrialization of our southwestern deserts.  If all of the projects are built, they would rival the destructive impacts of climate change and urban sprawl on desert species.  As long-time readers of this blog know, there have been plenty of bad projects approved on public lands in the desert, with some good news sprinkled here and there.  The list below - not at all comprehensive - provides an update on the status of some of the most significant projects.

Projects that are completed or under construction will be in Red; projects approved but not yet under construction in Yellow; and still pending environmental review and approval in GreenAll told, the list below represents over 100 square miles of intact desert that has now been destroyed or industrialized, and over 150 square miles that could be des…

New Research Describes Two Distinct Species of Desert Tortoise

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It has been 150 years since scientists officially described the desert tortoise as a species.  However, new research published this month indicates that we have actually been sharing the desert with at least two genetically distinct species of the desert tortoise.  Historically, many biologists and wildlife officials assumed the desert tortoise constituted a single species spanning the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in the US and Mexico.  The new research describes genetic, behavioral and physical differences that distinguish the two species of desert tortoise.   According to the research by Robert W. Murphy and Kristin H. Berry, among other scientists, the population of desert tortoise east of the Colorado River (Gopherus morafkai) is genetically distinct from the population to the west (Gopherus agassizii)

The recognition of the two distinct species means that the "Mojave" population (Gopherus agassizii) is actually much more imperiled and occupies a smaller range than previ…

White House Wants to Crush Tortoise Website

The Obama Administration launched its Campaign to Cut Waste today and, among other things, singled out the DesertTortoise.gov website as an example of "waste."   Cutting government waste is an admirable task.  But we should not slash with abandon and end up cutting what could be the most cost-effective form of government transparency and education.  The White House's decision to highlight the tortoise website as an example raises questions about their criteria for defining "waste."

There are certainly examples of unnecessary government websites. One of the examples given was the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website (the Centennial was in 2003).  Information on aviation history is highly available on other websites, school libraries, and television.  Shutting down the Centennial website is unlikely to deprive the American public of a critical source of information on this topic.

But is the DesertTortoise.gov website a waste?  The tortoise is a threatene…

Speak Up For An Energy Policy That Preserves Pristine Desert

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The Federal government is currently reviewing a broad policy shift that could encourage solar energy development on thousands of square miles of pristine public land in America's deserts, according to its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  Unfortunately, the new policy fails to consider a much better alternative, which is to encourage solar energy development on rooftops and on already-disturbed lands.  After a summary of the policy's potential impacts, you can read below to learn how to submit public comments on the policy as a concerned citizen, and urge a smarter approach.

Summary of the Policy:
The Departments of Interior and Energy are jointly reviewing three alternative policies for permitting solar energy on public land.   Each alternative makes a different amount of public land available to energy companies, but the government estimates that companies will use 214,000 acres (334 square miles) within 20 years.

The "No Action Al…

Green vs Greed: Disentangling Environmentalism from a False Dilemma

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The Sierra Club's legal challenge against the Calico Solar power project drew some criticism, with many describing the situation as "Green vs. Green."  This is not a surprising reaction since the headlines depict the situation in simple terms: environmentalists opposing the solar energy they have been demanding.  Although the Sierra Club's petition in California's Supreme Court represents the first serious challenge from a national environmental organization against a solar energy project,  environmentalists have opposed other forms of renewable energy in the past.  The difference between renewable energy and "green" energy has become ambiguous as many corporate and political interests begin to don green masks and demand unwavering support from Americans looking for a solution to our world's environmental woes.   Distinguishing between green and greed is crucial if environmentalists want to adhere to their basic principles--advocating for a clean en…

Legal Challenge Filed Against Six Solar Projects in California's Desert

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A coalition of Native American and civic groups filed a legal challenge against the Department of the Interior for approving six massive solar power projects in California's desert, alleging that the Department did not conduct adequate environmental reviews and did not properly consult with Native American tribes.  The legal challenge points to several Federal statutes that the Department of the Interior ignored in its "fast track" approval of the solar projects.  The collective intent of the statutes is to ensure that the Federal government fully considers the consequences of its proposed actions -- in this case, providing public land and taxpayer-backed financing to several energy companies so they can build on over 40 square miles of mostly pristine desert habitat and cultural landmarks.

The lawsuit challenges the Department of the Interior's review process for the following six solar power projects:
BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating Sy…

Glimmer of Hope for the Desert Bill

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would combine several land and water conservation bills into one package--called an omnibus bill--and putting it up for a vote before Congress concludes business at the end of the year.  Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010, S. 2921) could be a part of the omnibus bill.  If CDPA 2010 is not included, or if the omnibus bill never materializes, the proposed National Monuments in California's Mojave and Sonoran deserts may never receive protected status.

As a recap for those not familiar with the bill,  CDPA 2010 would balance conservation of natural areas and preservation of recreation opportunities by establishing:
Mojave Trails National Monument: 941,413 acres of Mojave Desert along Historic Route 66 and the southern boundary of the Mojave National Preserve.  Many of the valleys in this area were proposed for industrial development, and could still be vulnerable to destructive uses if th…

Silent Spring: The Sacrifice of California's Deserts

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By April 2010, the solar rush in California staked claim to dozens of square miles of pristine desert, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Energy Commission (CEC) were on the verge of granting approvals despite concerns about how these projects would transform wilderness into an industrial zone.  The BLM and CEC were accelerating the approval process to the detriment of public involvement, in a hurry to make good on promises by State and Federal leaders that our public land would be used to generate  renewable energy was mounting.

How Policy Brought the Bulldozers

Months earlier in October 2009, the Secretary of the Interior and Governor Schwarzenegger announced an agreement between the State and Federal governments to speed up the permitting of solar projects on public land in California.  Ironically, they made their announcement at a solar array on Loyola Marymount University's campus, a perfect example of distributed generation or "rooftop solar." Th…