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Showing posts with the label bighorn sheep

Are You Kidding?: Interior Set to Approve Project Near Soda Mountain

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The Department of Interior released its final environmental impact statement for Bechtel's Soda Mountain Solar project and appears to abandon previous "landscape-level" planning.  The document signals imminent approval for the nearly three square mile project that could ironically make it more difficult for desert bighorn sheep to adapt to climate change and imperil an endangered desert fish, ignoring alternative locations for the solar panels on rooftops or already-disturbed lands.

According to the environmental review, the desert habitat that will be destroyed to make way for the Soda Mountain Solar project currently hosts as many as 142 different species of native plants, 13 reptile species, and 15 mammal species, including three species of bats that forage on the site.  Fifty-one different bird species have been documented using the habitat, including burrowing owls.  Biologists found 50 recently active owl burrows on the project site.


Confidence Rests on Dangerous A…

Bridges for Bighorn

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Despite efforts to protect desert habitat in the southwest, major highways criss-crossing the desert are isolating wildlife into smaller pockets and hindering genetic exchange necessary to keep species healthy and resilient.  Desert bighorn sheep are not exempt from this impact; they may be agile and swift, but they are no match for several lanes of speeding cars and semi-trucks, and they tend to shy away from culverts that cross under highways.

Biologists have already noticed that desert bighorn sheep populations in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts are becoming genetically isolated because the region's major highways - such as Interstate 15 and Interstate 40 - and other human developments pose a barrier to sheep movement from one range to another.  According to a 2005 article in Ecology Letters,  biologists found "a rapid reduction in genetic diversity (up to 15%)" among desert bighorn sheep resulting from "as few as 40 years of anthropogenic isolation. Interstate h…

The Future of Zzyzx: Solar Project or Wildlife?

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Here we go again.  Do we allow Bechtel to destroy 3.8 square miles of desert habitat, or keep the wildlands intact to preserve a potential wildlife corridor?  Bechtel's proposed 350 megawatt Soda Mountain Solar project could dry up habitat for an endangered desert fish, and foreclose an opportunity to restore bighorn sheep habitat connectivity.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a draft environmental impact statement that signals likely approval for the Soda Mountain  project, although environmental groups, former National Park superintendents, and other citizens are expressing concern regarding the BLM's environmental review.  Prospects for wildlife are dim, however;  BLM also ignored wildlife concerns and environmental group protests when they approved the Stateline and Silver State South Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage.  A judge denied a preliminary request from Defenders of Wildlife to stop the Ivanpah projects i…

Wind Energy, Waste, Wildlands

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The Ocotillo Express Wind energy project threatens the fragmentation and destruction of over 23 square miles of public land adjacent to Anza-Borrego State Park in the Sonoran Desert of California.  The swath of land -- as big as the city of San Diego -- is a beautiful desert vista ringed by mountains near the small town of Ocotillo, but the project would etch miles of wide roads into the desert and build over 150 wind turbines that are equal in height to 30-story skyscrapers. The project would require tons of cement and steel, and the spinning blades will pose a danger to threatened bird species.  The project would be owned by Pattern Energy Group.  Renewable energy does not have to be so destructive-- solar panels on rooftops, over parking lots, and on already-disturbed lands can meet our energy needs without destroying wildlands.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently considering the proposal, and has published a draft environmental impact statement.   The deadline for public com…

Conservationists Offer Alternative to First Solar Projects in Ivanpah Valley

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday hosted a public meeting to discuss one of two solar projects that would be built in the Ivanpah Valley by First Solar Inc, drawing concerned citizens who expressed deep frustrations with a misguided renewable energy policy.   Desert experts and conservation advocates in attendance presented an alternative proposal to designate much of the valley as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in order to protect a crucial genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise and habitat for rare plants and other wildlife.   The full ACEC petition can be viewed at Basin and Range Watch's website.   Many citizens at the meeting have long called for distributed solar generation (such as rooftop solar), or placing solar facilities on lands that are already disturbed instead of on ecologically intact areas such as the Ivanpah Valley.

The two projects proposed by First Solar--Stateline and Silver State South--would essentially shut off a …

Environmental Groups Warn Interior on Calico Solar Project

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Three environmental groups--the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Natural Resources Defense Council--threatened to take legal action in Federal court against the Department of Interior's approval of the Calico solar power project, urging instead that it be built on already-disturbed lands.   The challenge represents the most significant step taken by these environmental groups to establish principles in what has otherwise been a rush by the Obama administration to industrialize public lands in the name of "green" energy. 

The nearly 7 square-mile Calico project would jeopardize key habitat in the central Mojave Desert for several imperiled species, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and the small-flowered androstephium.  The groups argue that although solar energy is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions, "utility-scale renewable energy sources and related transmission facilities on federal lands can threaten serious and widespread impacts o…

Caithness Solar Threatens Heart of the Mojave Desert

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A project proposed by New York-based Caithness Energy could degrade or destroy up to 6.8 square miles of public land identified by the Nature Conservancy study as "biologically core" to the health of the Mojave Desert.  The Soda Mountain Solar Project would be built on pristine desert habitat--mostly creosote scrub--and would likely disrupt an essential habitat connectivity corridor.
Desert experts fear that the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) initial review of the site does not adequately describe the importance of the area and biological resources that likely exist there.  According to the BLM Plan of Development for the project obtained by Basin and Range Watch,  the special status plant survey carried out for the plan of development was only cursory in nature and conducted in December when the extent of botanical resources are less apparent.  The plan of development also reports finding no desert tortoises on the project site, despite the relatively intact tortois…