Showing posts with the label desert tortoise

Road to Recovery for Declining Tortoise Population Increasingly Narrow

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…

"Green" Extractivism and the Ivanpah Valley

The Ivanpah Valley is now emblematic of the market's power not only to displace nature for the sake of materialism at an impressive scale, but also to limit the environmental movement's willingness to pursue sustainability.  First Solar continues to bulldoze intact habitat in the Ivanpah Valley to make way for over 6 square miles of solar panels at its Stateline and Silver State South projects.  The impact of the construction has been sobering, with desert tortoises, kit fox, LeConte's thrasher, ancient yucca, and countless other wildlife displaced or destroyed for a clean technology that can easily be installed on rooftops, over parking lots, and on already-disturbed lands. 

These First Solar projects join two other solar projects - including the BrightSource Ivanpah Solar project - and have turned a mostly wild landscape into one that is starkly dominated by human development.  Ivanpah proves that elements of our clean energy transition are dangerously compatible with a …

Can Ivanpah Be Saved?

The Department of Interior issued a Record of Decision this week approving two more massive solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  With this approval, First Solar could begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects as soon as this spring, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern that the projects could destroy a key habitat linkage for the imperiled desert tortoise.  Conservation groups have asked Interior and First Solar to consider alternative locations for the project, and Defenders of Wildlife in November warned that it may challenge Interior's review of the projects under the Endangered Species Act.

There is no good reason why these projects must be built in Ivanpah, but plenty of reasons why they should be built elsewhere.  First Solar picked sites close to transmission lines and secured a power purchase agreement with utility companies without consideration of how these choices might impact our desert wildlands and wildlife,…

Destructive Ivanpah Solar Project To Finally Start Operations

Government officials and executives are expected to flip the switch on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on February 13, over three years after BrightSource Energy and its lead investor, NRG, began bulldozing pristine desert to build the project.   During the 3+ years it took these companies to replace over 5.6 square miles of intact ecosystem to build 377 megawatts of solar capacity, Californians have added at least twice as much solar capacity with panels installed on rooftops or over parking lots, and even more capacity has been added with utility-scale projects built on already-disturbed lands.

Years of public relations efforts by NRG and BrightSource have not changed the fact that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the eastern Mojave Desert arguably represents one of the most destructive renewable energy projects permitted on public lands by the Obama administration.  The Ivanpah Solar project is to the Mojave what oil drilling would be to the Arctic Natio…

Interior Rolling the Dice on Future of the Desert Tortoise

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) biological opinion provides a seemingly conflicted and reluctant expression of support for the Silver State South solar project on the basis of mitigation measures that it admits may not offset the damage done by the project to the viability of a key habitat linkage for the desert tortoise.  The biological opinion is FWS' contribution to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) environmental review of the Silver State South project, and evaluates how the project will impact the desert tortoise.   Perhaps to speed approval of the project, the opinion glosses over a significant potential consequence of the project - local extirpation of the desert tortoise population in the Ivanpah Valley.

The Silver State South solar project would be built at the pinch point of the hour-glass shaped Ivanpah Valley, and potentially isolate two populations of the desert tortoise; both the BLM and FWS acknowledge that "current research does not i…

Silver State South Solar Nears Approval; Problems Loom

Tbe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in September released the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Silver State South solar project, which would destroy approximately 3.7 square miles of intact desert habitat. Although the direct impact on wildlife may not compare to BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar project, the Silver State South project almost certainly will have significant long-term effects on the ability of the desert tortoise to maintain habitat connectivity.

The BLM’s preferred alternative supports the solar project, and secondarily designates an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) to protect the desert tortoise habitat that First Solar does not want to destroy.  The ACEC is a welcomed sweetener, but still does not override the bitterness that arises from the fact that destruction of habitat for the solar project is completely unnecessary since the solar panels would be just as happy on already-disturbed lands somewhere else in the state.  Tortoises,…

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Project

In the time it took BrightSource Energy to build its 377 megawatt Ivanpah Solar project on over 5 square miles of pristine desert, California added more than twice as much clean energy capacity with rooftop solar, and other companies added hundreds of megawatts to the grid from solar projects built on already-disturbed lands.  Why carpet beautiful desert landscapes with mirrors when there is a better way to generate clean energy?

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…

Ivanpah Mitigation: Net Gain or Loss?

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…