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Showing posts with the label USFWS

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 …

Defenders of Wildlife Steps in to Protect Critical Tortoise Habitat

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Defenders of Wildlife filed a legal challenge this week against the Department of Interior's decision to permit two large solar projects along the California-Nevada border because each would significantly impair a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage.  The challenge calls out the Department of Interior's own doublespeak with respect to the need for "responsible development of renewable energy on our public lands."  The solar projects in question - First Solar's Stateline and Silver State South - would destroy a total of over 6.3 square miles of habitat in the Ivanpah Valley; this area not only provides genetic connectivity across the tortoise's range, but research also shows the valley will "retain the precipitation and temperature levels necessary to sustain the species" through anticipated impacts of climate change.  First Solar refused to consider relocating the projects to already-disturbed lands, and the Department of Interior decided to pe…

FOIA Documents Shed Light on Closed-Door Meetings on Eagle Deaths

Documents received by the American Bird Conservancy in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request shed light on numerous closed-door meetings from October 2012 through at least March 2013 that the Department of Interior held with a coalition of wind industry and conservation group representatives - known as the "Group of 16" - to continue the "dialogue" on two policy efforts that impact bald and golden eagles: 1) Interior's plans to completely revise the eagle take permit rule, and 2) a revision to the eagle take rule specifically allowing companies to kill bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years.  Interior finalized the 30-year eagle take permits in December 2013, but has not yet finalized the more comprehensive revisions to the eagle take rule.  The American Bird Conservancy has expressed concern that the invitation-only meetings may have violated rules and laws designed to maintain transparency and public participation in how the Federal go…

Wolves, Watts and Washington

The past few weeks have brought a depressing onslaught of "more of the same" from Washington, but I will start with a couple nice morsels of good news.  A new report from GTM Research provides some relief in the form of good news on distributed generation.   I'll give you a gist of the research - in the first three months of 2013, the United States added over 405 MW of solar panels to residential and commercial rooftops.   In addition, many of the utility scale projects completed over the past few months probably were built on already-disturbed lands, judging by the report's description of the general sizes and locations of the installations.   It's nice to know that somehow there is a segment of the energy market that is on a sustainable and clean path, and it makes companies that destroy pristine desert habitat look bad (ahem, like BrightSource Energy, K Road, and Next Era).  The report also reiterates that rooftop solar is going to change the way we do busines…

Desert National Wildlife Refuge: Vote for Your Favorite Photo

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The Desert National Wildlife Refuge complex is hosting a photo contest, and you can vote for your favorite photo at the contest website.  Check out the photos and show your support!


Feds Publish Final Order Allowing Wind Company to Kill a Condor; Other Wildlife At Risk

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The Obama administration published the Record of Decision on Friday that permits Terra-Gen Power LLC to industrialize more of the western Mojave Desert with the Alta East Wind project, and kill at least one endangered California condor without penalty.  The American Bird Conservancy is asking the Obama administration to reverse the unprecedented move to allow the condor death, noting that many private and non-profit groups investing resources in the bird's recovery were blindsided.

Industrial Transformation of Western Mojave
The wind project - financed by Citibank and Google - will be located near the Tehachapi Mountains and destroy desert tortoise and golden eagle habitat in a region continuously besieged by new new proposals for wind projects.  Wildlife officials admit that the cumulative impact of so much industrialization is difficult to calculate, but Washington's "all of the above" energy strategy typically fast-tracks permits ahead of greater environmental …

Laws Not Enforced as Wind Industry Kills More Birds and Bats

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The Associated Press published a thorough article examining the number of eagles and other protected birds being killed by wind energy projects -- many built on remote wildlands -- and highlighting the Department of Interior's unwillingness to hold the wind industry accountable to laws meant to protect wildlife.   With over 573,000 birds killed by wind turbines each year,  according to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, as well as a significant number of bats, the Department of Interior can only point to superficial and voluntary guidelines that the wind industry continues to ignore.

Some environmentalists attempt to downplay the problem, as Sierra Club editor Paul Rauber did in a Sierra magazine article earlier this year that described hundreds of thousands of bird deaths each year as "trivial."  The wind industry responded to the Associated Press article with the same argument employed by Mr. Rauber, stating that buildings, cars, and cats kill even more birds each year.  …

Ivanpah Mitigation: Net Gain or Loss?

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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and BrightSource Energy just announced that the energy company will purchase 7,000 acres of desert habitat as "mitigation" to compensate for the destruction caused by the company's Ivanpah Solar project in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  Although the deal is being presented as the company satisfying the mitigation requirement,  the description of the lands set aside suggests the company fell short of the expectations set forth when the California Energy Commission approved the project in 2010.   The project approval required the company to acquire at least 7,164 acres of suitable desert habitat for conservation "as close to the project site as possible," but some of the lands are likely over 100 miles from the project.

An Unsustainable Smiley Face
This lapse in the mitigation strategy proves that the Ivanpah Solar project is solar done wrong and far from sustainable.  Rather than destroy intact ecosystems, the compa…

Desert National Wildlife Refuge

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Scattered showers brush past the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in February. The same storm system dusted the higher elevations of nearby Bare Mountains and Spring Mountains in snow.  The Desert National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936, and is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states.  Hopefully urban and industrial sprawl do not isolate this trove of biodiversity from the rest of Nevada's desert wildlands.


You should plan a hike at the Refuge if you are in the Las Vegas area, and you can access the area from the Corn Creek Field Station off of I-95, north of the city.

Sensible Siting

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This photo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service's flickr photostream is accompanied by a sensible message about renewable energy -- if we keep renewable energy projects on degraded or already-disturbed lands, we can minimize ecological damage as we transition away from fossil fuels. 
Photo credit: USFWS/Rachel Molenda

Solar Panel
Hopefully this message is heard by decision makers in Washington. At this moment the Bureau of Land Management is considering plans by First Solar to build the Silver State South Solar project on a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage in the Ivanpah Valley, Nevada. Surely there are better places for those solar panels.

Climate Change is Real, and So Is Habitat Loss

The Obama administration this month released the  National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy , which details the threat climate change poses to a variety of ecosystems, and the steps needed to help species cope with what is likely to be long-term damage.

The number one goal identified in the strategy is the conservation of habitat and wildlife linkages to help species adapt and bolster ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change.  According to the Strategy:
"Many of our nation’s imperiled species (both those currently listed either as Threatened or Endangered as well as many other species that may eventually be considered for listing) do not occur in existing conservation areas. Indeed, the major threat to many species on the U.S. Endangered Species List is the loss of habitat caused when the habitat they depend on is converted to a different use. Climate change will make the problem worse—and will make the need for new conservation areas more urgent.&qu…

California Desert Policy Makeover Nears Release

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Updated to include correct version of Alternative 3 map

California's deserts are about to undergo the most sweeping land management policy transformation since the California Desert Conservation Area Plan was implemented in 1980, which itself was a response to Federal legislation passed in 1976.  The Renewable Energy Action Team -- a Federal and State of California inter-agency cohort formed to facilitate utility-scale solar and wind projects in the California desert while attempting to protect habitat and wildlife -- issued a series of documents in December that outline the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The documents provide more details on potential conservation measures and "development focus areas," which would significantly alter land designations for millions of acres in the California Desert Conservation Area.  The documents released do not identify which of the six action alternatives is favored by the REAT agencies, however, keeping us in …

BLM Urged to Preserve Ivanpah Linkage

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In a rather strong and thorough letter, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in November asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reject First Solar's Silver State South solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, reiterating FWS concerns that the project will reduce or eliminate a critical linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.  FWS' letter preceded a joint letter submitted in December by eight different environmental groups asking the BLM to suspend approval of any additional projects in the Ivanpah Valley until a conservation plan is in place, indicating that BLM decisions impacting the Ivanpah Valley so far have underestimated its biological importance.
FWS Comments on Silver State South Solar

FWS's asks the BLM to work with the applicant to modify the layout of the project if it is not possible to reject the project altogether, suggesting the alternatives already analyzed by BLM do not offer a sufficiently wide habitat linkage. Human development to the west, and t…

Desert Solar Policy Codifies Status Quo

The Department of Interior today released the final version of a policy that will smooth the way for industrial-scale solar energy development on public lands throughout America's southwestern deserts.   Even though Interior weakened environmental protections seen in earlier drafts, and crafted the policy to meet industry demands--essentially putting on paper what is already Interior's de facto policy of allowing solar companies to bulldoze wherever they please--several national environmental groups still applauded the announcement, including the Sierra Club, NRDC, the Wilderness Society, and the national Audubon Society.  Their statements of support for the policy probably represent efforts to put positive spin on what is ultimately an environmental catastrophe for the renewable energy industry and our public lands.

Corporate Giveaway of Public Lands The final policy--which is expected to be signed by Secretary Salazar later this year--designates nearly 30,000 square miles of d…