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Showing posts with the label wilderness areas

Spring Blooms

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Pollination in action as a bee visits phacelia (lace-leafed?) in the Newberry Mountains Wilderness Area of the Mojave Desert.

Alert: Take Action for CDPA 2010

According to the latest news from Capitol Hill, the current omnibus lands bill (a combination of many proposed conservation bills into one piece of legislation) does not currently include the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (S. 2921), or any wilderness designations in California's deserts.    Senator Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) late last year, but it has not yet been reported from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  CDPA 2010 is unlikely to be included in an omnibus lands bill until it has passed from the committee, but time is running out.

Call or e-mail Senator Feinstein's staff to urge them to work to include the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 in the final omnibus bill.  Otherwise, the chances of wilderness protection in California's deserts next year are dim.  CDPA 2010 would set aside over over 1 million acres of pristine desert for conservation, including areas along Historic Route 66, and e…

Rice Solar Project Tests the Definition of Wilderness

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At face value, the Rice Solar power project seems much less harmful compared to other solar projects approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC), including the destructive Ivanpah, Calico or Imperial Solar projects.  The project is proposed for about 2.5 square miles of mostly privately owned land with low quality desert habitat.  The project could result in the death or displacement of approximately 7 desert tortoises,  a smaller impact compared to the 40 desert tortoises already found at the Ivanpah Solar project site.


If it receives final approval, however, the project's small 2.5 square mile footprint will host a giant tower rising 653 feet above the ground, that could project glare comparable to half the brightness of the sun, according to CEC analysis.  The tower and its glare will be visible from 737 square miles surrounding the project.   The project will be visible from four separate wilderness areas.

The Presiding Member's Proposed Decision -- which is the seco…

Urge Legislators to Pass Wilderness Protections Now

My last post highlighted two pieces of legislation currently stuck in Congressional committees that could improve conditions in California's deserts.  I previously assessed that the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) was unlikely to see a full vote before the Senate and House before the end of the legislative calendar in November.   However, I just read analysis by Politico--a publication that closely follows trends on the Hill--that suggests a Republican turnover in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee could severely limit opportunities to protect western wilderness over the next few years.

Unfortunately, one of the misguided themes in recent political activism is that concern for the environment and protecting open space is synonymous with "big government" and "socialism".  The political figures that oppose environmental protections ironically boast of their patriotism and faith in God as reasons to allow private interests free …

Overview of Energy Projects That Could Impact California's Deserts

Here is a brief overview of the industrial transformation proposed for the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California.  A couple of the projects will only have a minimal impact on the desert ecosystem because they are sited on former agricultural land (Beacon and Abengoa Solar).  The rest will contribute to the fragmentation and deterioration of desert ecosystems.

The list is not comprehensive, but the combined impact would be over 30,000 acres of desert habitat.  That is over 46 square miles, or the equivalent of 8 LAX airports.  California's desert ecosystems are already under strain due to urban growth, military usage, invasive species, off-highway vehicle use, and climate change.  Ironically, "green"energy could place unprecedented levels of stress on the desert as the majority of the projects listed below will break ground before the end of this year.  Unfortunately, the list below is just the beginning, since dozens of additional applications for energy proj…

"What a crock..."

According to an anonymous poster, this blog's critical look at where we should place utility-scale renewable energy production is unfair to the energy companies.

Anonymous said...
What a crock. You cant win for losing trying to build clean energy projects. Maybe they should just put a dirty oil or coal producing energy company there.

Apparently we should ignore the mistakes of previous generations and jump blindly into whatever profit-seeking companies say is best for us.  Okay Anonymous, let's bulldoze thousands of acres of our wilderness so you can run your dishwasher and TV on so-called "green" energy.

If utility-scale solar energy production that requires thousands of acres for a couple hundred MW of electricity were required to replace all of our coal production, our towns and cities would be sandwiched between vast fields of sun-reflecting mirrors.  Utility-scale solar technology still suffers from inefficiency from an economic scale standpoint, so why sh…

Desert Expert: Find Another Site for Calico Solar

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Mr James Andre, an expert in desert research who Tessera Solar sought to ban from the Calico Solar evidentiary hearings, submitted a written brief to the California Energy Commission (CEC) in which he recommends that State and Federal agencies provide incentives to Tessera Solar to find a less harmful location for the energy project.

One of the most poignant portions of the brief submitted to the CEC commissioners reminds them of their burden to avoid shortcuts, and think of policy solutions that can accommodate the competing demands of "clean" energy and a sustainable and healthy Mojave Desert ecosystm:

Mr. Andre wrote:
"As the decision-making body for this and subsequent utility-scale solar energy projects, the Commission becomes our representative to future generations."

Mr. Andre argues that the Calico Solar site is of high ecological value for several reasons that represent his expertise in botany:
Tessera Solar's survey method for the White-margined beardto…

You shall never see elsewhere...

I'm reading The California Deserts: An Ecological Rediscovery by Bruce Pavlik.  There is a chapter on the history of human interaction with California's deserts, and Mr. Pavlik has an excerpt from the writings of John Van Dyke, a professor who visited the California deserts and in 1902 wrote:

The desert has gone a-begging for a word of praise these many years.  It never had a sacred poet; it has in me only a lover.

Is then this great expanse of sand and rock the beginning of the end?  Is that the way our globe shall perish? Who can say? Nature plans the life, she plans the death; it must be that she plans aright.  For death may be the culmination of all character; and life but the process of development.  If so, then not in vain these wastes of sand.  The harsh destiny, the life-long struggle which they have imposed upon all the plants and birds, and animals have been but as the stepping-stones of character...

Not in vain these wastes of sand.  And this time not because they dev…

Aldo Leopold

I'm reading Mitch Tobin's Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink, and so far I am definitely enjoying the book and learning a lot.  One quote that Tobin uses is attributed to Aldo Leopold, who made a statement that should give us pause in our feverish efforts to change and fragment our final remaining wilderness:

"The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.  If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."

This quote reminded me of criticisms by proponents of increased industrialization and urbanization of open spaces in the Mojave Desert, arguing that the desert tortoise, Mohave ground squirrel, or Mojave milkweed do not deserve to be given …

Solar Millennium Intent on Building on Poorly Chosen Ridgecrest Site

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Despite an array of potentially disastrous impacts on Mojave Desert species, water resources for the community of Ridgecrest, and even the risk of spreading Valley Fever among residents, Solar Millennium LLC appears intent to build the proposed Ridgecrest Solar Power project.   During a 17 May status conference, Solar Millennium demanded clarity from the CEC and wildlife agencies on specifically what mitigation measures could be instituted to overcome the biological impacts.  I previously posted on the Ridgecrest project in March after the California Energy Commission (CEC) issued a preliminary assessment recommending against construction on the site, claiming that no mitigation measures--habitat restoration, translocation of tortoises, etc--would adequately make up for the damage Solar Millennium would incur on our natural resources.

The site is home to a high density population of desert tortoise--to include a healthy juvenile tortoise population--and the site functions as a key cor…

Ranking Member of Senate Committee Guards Energy Companies

Reviewing the transcripts from the 20 May Senate hearing on the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921),  the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource's opening comments struck me as ill-informed, and as knee-jerk opposition that assumes the effort to protect public land is somehow more reckless than the chaotic "gold rush" effort by energy companies to bulldoze pristine Mojave wilderness.  In her comments, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) stated that the proposed legislation would "encumber" renewable energy development and take land off the table before the government had a chance to determine whether or not it would be suitable for renewable energy development.

Murkowski's argument was flawed for a few reasons:
1.) CDPA 2010's proposed national monuments and wilderness areas donot affect the Department of Energy's solar energy study zones, which are the only lands currently being evaluated by the Federa…

Department of Defense and Veteran Speak Out in Favor of Preserving California Desert Wilderness

A San Bernardino Sun opinion piece authored by a veteran that does not want to see his country's natural heritage bulldozed for hastily considered industrial development is included at the bottom of this post.  As I have noted in previous posts, the Mojave Desert has inspired generations of Americans, including the droves of US service members who have trained here.

Ironically, some of the opponents of Senator Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921) claim that efforts to protect desert wilderness from industrial development could also hinder the Department of Defense's ability to adequately prepare our troops.  (for an example, read here)  I think this claim is probably a cheap way to veil some policymaker's attempts to protect energy companies' attempts to develop public lands, rather than preserve DoD's efforts to maintain national security.

You can take a look at the testimony presented by the DoD at the CDPA 2010 hearing b…

Western Wilderness Conference: April 8-11

An agenda has been announced for the April 8-11 2010 Western Wilderness Conference, to be held in Berkeley California.  The conference discussions and speakers will address an array of issues regarding efforts to manage and conserve wilderness throughout the Western US, but there will be a workshop focused on the "Campaign for the California Desert: Then and Now."  You can get more information on the Western Wilderness website.

California Desert Protection Act of 2010

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Senator Feinstein's office released more details on her proposal to create two national monuments in the Mojave Desert on her official site.  In the press release, the Senator lays out policy implementation that balances the need to preserve desert wilderness,  and scenic vistas along the iconic and Historic Route 66, and reconciling this with the need to make the renewable energy siting question more efficient. The California Desert Protection Act of 2010 summary also lays out plans to designate an additional 250,000 acres of wilderness area on lands previously designated as wilderness study areas.


The plan is already receiving some negative attention, however, most notably from environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a New York Times interview.  Kennedy also happens to have a financial stake in solar energy development as an investor in Brightsource Energy.  In the interview Kennedy slams Feinstein for taking "land off the table without a proper and scientific environmenta…

Solar Energy Development in the Mojave

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Why Renewable Energy Requires A Thoughtful and Balanced Approach in the Desert
Even though desert plants and animals are a tough bunch, climate change is still a threat to the desert as much as it is to the polar ice caps. Wildlife in the deserts are so uniquely adapted and have balanced their ecosystem in such hostile conditions that even slight changes can be disruptive. The struggle between desert wildlife and the harsh conditions it contends with year-round is a reason to respect Mojave, where everyday of survival is a triumph. Consider how hot it can get in the Victor Valley on an average summer day? Anywhere from 95-112 degrees F, right? The temperatures are even higher closer to the ground in the desert, so if you are a desert tortoise, leopard lizard or a fledgling desert shrub you face temperatures that can reach 140 degrees F (or 60 degrees Celsius).

So what difference does a little bit of global warming make? One recent study funded by the National Science Foundation …

Preserving Inspiration

Open Space. When was the last time you saw some? I'm not talking about the park down the street, or a good spot to park your car at the grocery store. When was the last time you could look around you and not see another sign of human beings or hear them or their creations. No car or train noises, no garbage or roads, signs or sounds. If you drive East from Los Angeles on Interstate 10 or 15, into the middle of the Mojave Desert, you'll find the start of the journey required to find some of the best open space left in America.

The Mojave is a wilderness that has challenged generations of Americans; starting with American Indians and including economic migrants from the Mid-West during the Great Depression, it has tested the mettle of strong-willed miners, and provided an open canvas for daring test pilots.  Generations of Americans have smelled the sagebrush warning them that a rare rain shower was nearby;  gazed at the blankets of wildflowers that appear in spring;  star…