Posts

Showing posts with the label Nevada

Nevada Ballot Measure a Catch-22 for the Mojave

Image
"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

Image
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,…

Nevada Outdoor Enthusiasts and Conservation Groups Losing Ground

Image
Nevadans are poised to lose access to hundreds of square miles of desert and mountain wildlands over the next few years, and elected officials appear to be looking the other way.  The crush of proposals to convert desert and mountain wildlands into sprawling solar and wind facilities, natural gas drilling fields, expanded military bases, and urban sprawl has left outdoor enthusiasts' efforts divided as they chase each individual threat.  When desert communities in neighboring California faced a similar onslaught, the chorus of concern prompted policy changes at the local, State and Federal level to better guide development and protect desert wildlands and rural areas. No such rescue effort appears on the horizon in Nevada.

Nevada's wildlands are treasured by hikers, backcountry 4x4 groups, hunters, campers, astronomers, photographers, wildlife-watchers, mountain bikers, rockhounds and a myriad of others.  The outdoor experience they cherish is one of vast landscapes where…

Wind Project Expected to Jeopardize Eagles, Mule Deer, Bighorn

Image
A preliminary study released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) further underscores that the proposed Crescent Peak Wind project will spoil an outdoor gem in southern Nevada, threatening a golden eagle hot spot and impeding mule deer and bighorn sheep habitat.  The Sweden-based wind company hopes to begin construction of this project on public lands by next year if it can secure BLM's approval.

Study Shows Turbines Would Jeopardize Golden Eagles


The study, contracted by project developer Eolus Wind, erroneously downplays the potential impact on golden eagles. However, the data presented shows that golden eagles use the proposed project site extensively.  According to the preliminary study, nearly 118 golden eagle nests were identified within ten miles of the proposed project.  During the surveys golden eagles were spotted flying above the proposed project site 36 times. The data clearly establishes that golden eagles frequently use the area for forage, and fly at heights that w…

Mojave Road Experience in Jeopardy

Image
A quintessential rite of passage for Mojave explorers will no longer offer the same journey into unconfined and wild desert that generations of travelers have shared if a Sweden-based company gets its way.  A document released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under a Freedom of Information Act request indicates that towering wind turbines of the proposed Crescent Peak Wind project would be visible from a majority of the Mojave Road in the eastern Mojave desert.


The Mojave Road is a historic route traversed for centuries by Native Americans, European explorers and present-day adventurers.  Much of the route crosses public lands and the natural character of the landscape provides travelers an experience not much different from that of generations past.  Joshua trees and creosote bushes dominate the landscape for miles around, with little reminder of the industrial era.  But that could change now that the BLM is reviewing an application by Sweden-based company Eolus Vind to develop…

Clark County Leaders Look to Encourage More Sprawl

Image
Clark County Commissioners seem intent on approving more urban sprawl in the Las Vegas Valley at a meeting on February 7.  On the meeting's agenda is a plan by Gypsum Resources to build a nearly 5,000-home community on top of Blue Diamond Hill on the edge of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a popular outdoor escape near Las Vegas, Nevada.  The County Commissioners have been advised by their own planning commission not to approve the project because the development would be a significant departure from the county's original master plan that requires the area remain low-density and rural.

The County is suing a grassroots community group opposed to the Blue Diamond Hill sprawl in an effort to undermine opposition to the plans, suggesting the County Commissioners are on the side of the developer.  If built, the tract homes and businesses would be visible to visitors at Red Rock Canyon, increase light pollution, and add significant traffic congestion to nearby roads that…

Air Force May Reduce Public Access in Nevada Wildlife Refuge

Image
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…

Road to Recovery for Declining Tortoise Population Increasingly Narrow

Image
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…

Public Lands Debate Hijacked by Extremists in Nevada

Image
At the urging of a small but vocal group of extremists, the Nevada legislature is considering an unconstitutional bill that would take public lands currently managed by the Federal government and hand them over to private interests for grazing, logging and mining (Assembly Bill 408).  Cliven Bundy, whose dangerous supporters aimed semi-automatic rifles at law enforcement officers, characterizes the bill as a "freedom and liberty thing," according to the Los Angeles Times.  They suggest that the Federal government limits public access to public land in Nevada, but they apparently define "freedom" as giving industry free reign to destroy the desert.

Southern Nevada is blessed with some beautiful desert wildlands.  Drive in any direction from Las Vegas and you'll find a corner of desert where you can enjoy solitude, the smell of creosote, and a beautiful landscape.  Contrary to what Bundy would like me to believe, I have never felt fenced out.   I have camped and …

Conservation Legislation Loaded with Poison Pills

Congress may grant public lands some new conservation designations before the end of the year, but at a substantial cost.   The House of Representatives and Senate have agreed on draft legislation that will pair conservation proposals with land transfers and special allowances for the mining, timber, grazing and energy interests.  The Senate is expected to pass the bill, which also includes the long-sought Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument north of Las Vegas.  In the last days of a Democrat-controlled Senate, it is a dismal sign of the times to come if even "bi-partisan" conservation deals are so heavily laden with gifts to industry.

Nevada's New Monument

If the legislation passes the Senate - a move expected within the next week - it would establish the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on over 22,000 acres just north of Las Vegas.  However, the monument would come with its own dose of destructive compromises.  The bill directs the National Park Service…

Nevada: Draft Plan Would Endanger Natural Treasures

Image
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put forward a draft resource management plan (RMP) for southern Nevada that ignores opportunities to protect lands with wilderness characteristics and proposes industrial-scale energy development near natural landmarks.  The draft RMP adds to the extraordinary burden that desert activists face as they comb through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan for neighboring California; comparing the two plans highlights how bureaucratic boundaries can result in arbitrary differences in how we manage desert wildlands.

Wildlands Sidelined

The RMP acknowledges that an inventory of desert habitat identified over 378 square miles of land with wilderness characteristics - sufficient size, naturalness, and outstanding opportunities for either solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation - that could be managed to preserve these attributes. However, the preferred alternative would only protect about 15% of these lands.


Most of the lands with …