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OHV Damage Prompts Jawbone Canyon Trail Closures

An update on the "Friends of Jawbone Canyon" website highlights recent route closures as a result of illegal off-highway vehicle use causing damage to private property and areas of critical environmental concern.  Jawbone Canyon is a checkerboard of public and private land on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, just northeast of Tehachapi and southwest of Ridgecrest.  Some of the public land is designated as protected under the Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

In partnership with private landowners and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), dozens of miles of OHV routes were opened to the public to enjoy the natural splendor of the area.  An unlawful few, however, began to create new routes, irreparably harming undisturbed land, natural springs, and even cutting private fences.  Some routes have been closed as Friend of Jawbone (FOJ) Canyon works in partnership with Kern County and the BLM to restore damaged lands.

There is such thing as re…

Marine Base Expansion Will Limit OHV Recreation

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The Twentynine Palms Marine Base released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (draft EIS) for its proposed expansion, which would put over 146,000 acres of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area under military control for live-fire exercises.  The military has reportedly met with OHV groups to work out arrangements that give OHV users access to part of the exercise area when it is not being used by the military.  As a result, the Marines' preferred alternative would let OHV users access a portion of the area during 10 months out of the year.

The Johnson OHV area is one of the largest in the Mojave Desert, and draws thousands of OHV enthusiasts each year.  OHV use takes a heavy toll on the viability of desert habitat, so much of the area has already been degraded by years of intense OHV use.  However, desert plant and wildlife would still be impacted by the heavy military use of the area, and the Marines expect that anywhere from 121 to 189 adult desert tortoises could…

Speak Up For An Energy Policy That Preserves Pristine Desert

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The Federal government is currently reviewing a broad policy shift that could encourage solar energy development on thousands of square miles of pristine public land in America's deserts, according to its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  Unfortunately, the new policy fails to consider a much better alternative, which is to encourage solar energy development on rooftops and on already-disturbed lands.  After a summary of the policy's potential impacts, you can read below to learn how to submit public comments on the policy as a concerned citizen, and urge a smarter approach.

Summary of the Policy:
The Departments of Interior and Energy are jointly reviewing three alternative policies for permitting solar energy on public land.   Each alternative makes a different amount of public land available to energy companies, but the government estimates that companies will use 214,000 acres (334 square miles) within 20 years.

The "No Action Al…

Environmental Organizations Demand Wiser Desert Solar Policy

The editorial below was jointly authored by the Sierra Club, NRDC, and Wilderness Society in response to wayward government policy that could needlessly sacrifice hundreds of square miles of pristine desert to solar energy development.  These groups are finally showing much needed leadership on a vexing issue -- that not all renewable energy is "green." I explore the issue in more depth in "Green vs. Greed." 

The bottom line is that the Department of Interior is willing to permit solar energy development on desert habitat, even though millions of acres of already-disturbed lands are being ignored by our government and energy companies.  Additionally, rooftop solar programs have not yet tapped the full potential of distributed generation in our cities.  Our energy policy needs to break free from the old paradigm of massive transmission lines and facilities and take advantage of the true benefit of solar -- that it can be generated wherever the sun shines.  There is …

Massive Searchlight Wind Project a Danger to Desert Birds

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I've written a lot about energy companies rushing to build massive solar facilities in America's deserts --mostly on pristine habitat that is home to a variety of rare plant and wildlife.  Wind projects also threaten these ecosystems, including the proposed Searchlight Wind project to be built by Duke Energy in Nevada.  Even though wind energy projects may not require as much ground disturbance as solar energy facilities, the spinning blades have been proven to kill rare bat species, golden eagles, vultures, and other birds. 

The Searchlight Project, near the town of Searchlight, would place up to 160 giant wind turbines on up to 14 square miles of public land.  At least 40 miles of new roads will scar the area to reach each turbine.   Basin and Range Watch has covered the proposal extensively on its website, and they also provide some beautiful photos of the area.

The danger to desert birds is real, but most people tend to think wind energy farms are "environmentally f…

Desert Rain: The Sequel

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The Mojave Desert is receiving another round of rain showers tonight, with chances of rain forecast for next week, as well.  Readers of this blog and residents of Southern California will remember the nearly 5 days of rain showers that pounded the desert in late December, setting the stage for a potentially great wildflower season this spring.  Todays rains could improve our chances for a good show. 

Tessera Solar Trading Public Land and Money

Tessera Solar LLC recently sold its rights to build the Imperial Valley Solar project on over 10 square miles of pristine desert to AES Solar.   Tessera Solar received approval by the Federal government last year to build the solar facility on the vast tract of public land that also contains threatened species and hundreds of sites of cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe, but Tessera did not have the money to build the project.  The Quechan tribe filed a lawsuit against the Federal government for approving the project without understanding the cultural resources that would be destroyed, and a judge ruled in December that the government likely failed to properly consult with the tribe, ordering a halt to any construction plans.  AES Solar will not be able to build on the site until the case is resolved, which could take years.

Tessera Solar also sold its Calico Solar power project rights to K Road Power in December.  In some ways, Tessera Solar's dealings resemble the mortgag…