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Showing posts with the label USFWS

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…

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…

First Solar Project Displaces Over 160 Desert Tortoises

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First Solar has displaced at least 161 adult and juvenile desert tortoises to make way for its Silver State South Solar project in Nevada, as of August 2015, according to documents provided by the Department of Interior.  Initial information indicates several tortoises relocated from the project site have already died, possibly as a result of being forced into unfamiliar ranges.  First Solar is clearing over 3.7 square miles of intact desert habitat for the project after the company ignored requests to consider less destructive locations.  Underscoring its interest in profit over the environment, the company has even funded attacks on rooftop solar - a more sustainable alternative to meeting our renewable energy needs that First Solar sees as a threat to its bulldozer-led approach.

Translocation Results Uneven

Although the 161 desert tortoises found on the Silver State South project site were moved to the surrounding desert before bulldozers leveled the area for solar panels, at least …

New Bill Would Gut Desert National Wildlife Refuge

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The draft National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 (NDAA) is loaded with plenty of problematic riders, including attempts to lift endangered species protection for threatened sea otters in California, de-list the endangered lesser-prairie chicken, and prevent the listing of the sage grouse.  Of particular relevance in the Mojave Desert, the version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives includes language that would offer jurisdiction of over half of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the U.S. Air Force for weapons testing.  Handing over jurisdiction of this important desert habitat is unnecessary because the military already has access to over several million acres of training and weapons testing ranges throughout the southwestern United States.



The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is one of the nation's largest, at about1.6 million acres.  However, over half of the Refuge is closed to the public and managed jointly by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Secretar…

DRECP: Is the New Approach a Threat or Opportunity?

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The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) agencies announced this week that they would adopt a phased approach to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in response to widespread concern about the proposed endangered species permitting mechanism and conflict with county land use plans.   Under this approach, the more contentious aspects of the DRECP will be further refined after additional consultation with the counties and rolled out at a later date.

The first phase will amend the land use planning for Federal lands in the California desert, establishing both conservation and development focus areas.  The second phase will establish development areas on private lands as well as the streamlined permitting process for renewable energy projects under State and Federal Endangered Species Acts.  Reactions to the phased approach range from concern to relief.

Will Desert Conservation Move Forward?

How well the first phase is received will depend largely on whether or not the B…

Silurian Valley Spared by BLM

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If you have ever been to the Silurian Valley, you know it is one of those grand places that inspires and beckons you to pull over, get out of your car, and hike.  After driving on Interstate 15 from Barstow, the Silurian Valley is a strong dose of tranquility, providing relief from the traffic, billboards and franchise restaurants of our Anthropocentric world and what Aldo Leopold called the "epidemic of geometry."  As you drive up the two-lane Death Valley Road,  you leave behind the sight of the small highway outpost of Baker and you are swallowed by the immensity of the Silurian Valley. It is just you and the narrow road dividing thousands of acres of wilderness on either side.  This week, Jim Kenna, the State Director for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California, spared this place for future generations to experience when he rejected plans by Spain-based Iberdrola to build the Aurora Solar project.

Kenna's decision represents a significant milestone u…

Investigation Sheds Light on Industry Influence over Desert Policy

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The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Interior released a report this month confirming that a senior Obama administration official with cozy ties to the renewable energy industry pressured subordinates to ignore environmental concerns in favor of providing rubber-stamp approval to power plants.  The IG report focuses on the actions of Steve Black - who retired from Interior in 2013 and served as senior counselor to former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar  - because he dated a lobbyist for renewable energy company NextEra and also put his name forward to serve as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), all while continuing to manage the approval of renewable energy projects on public lands.  At the very least, Mr. Black's actions constitute the appearance of impropriety that undermines our ability to trust Interior leadership to manage public lands based on sound science rather than special interests.

As senior counselor to the Secretary of Interior, Black ha…

The DRECP: To Protect or Undo the Desert?

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The Department of Interior this week will unveil the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), and it is a big deal.  The DRECP will establish "development focus areas" where the review and approval of large-scale renewable energy projects will be streamlined, and will identify other lands for additional conservation measures.  How much of each - destruction and conservation - and which lands will be affected will be revealed in the draft later this week. 

The DRECP is a big deal because it will propose the most significant changes to how we manage the California desert since Congress first ordered Interior to take better care of the of these lands decades ago.  In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that ordered Interior to establish the California Desert Conservation Area Plan (CDCA) "to provide for the immediate and future protection and administration of the public lands in the California desert within the framework of a …

How Much is Too Much Heat for Birds?

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In testimony submitted in advance of California Energy Commission (CEC) evidentiary hearings scheduled for the end of this month, the CEC staff estimates that the impact of heated air above BrightSource's proposed Palen hybrid solar and natural gas project may result in as much as 2.5 times more bird deaths than at the BrightSource's Ivanpah hybrid project (I use the term "hybrid" because Ivanpah will burn nearly 525 million standard cubic feet  of natural gas, annually.  Palen will burn at least 728 million standard cubic feet of gas, annually.  Unlike photovoltaic solar projects, BrightSource's power tower design needs fossil fuels to warm up the boilers that also convert the sun's energy into electricity).
BrightSource has argued that birds are only at risk of death from solar flux (air heated by the concentration of the solar mirror field) in the air space close to the power tower where the heat is most intense.  CEC staff, however, assesses that birds a…

Federal District Court to Hear Case on Ivanpah Valley on Monday

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Defenders of Wildlife on Monday will argue before the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California that First Solar should not be allowed to begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley this spring because of the irreparable harm the projects would incur on critical desert tortoise habitat.  The Department of Interior permitted the projects even though biologists - including at the Fish and Wildlife Service - have argued that no additional large-scale development should take place in the Ivanpah Valley because it could impair a critical habitat linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.

The Department of Interior, California Energy Commission, and First Solar have filed notices in opposition to Defenders of Wildlife, claiming that the projects are critical components of Federal and State renewable energy programs, but failing to justify why these two projects must be built on such important wildlife habitat.  First Solar …