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The DRECP: To Protect or Undo the Desert?

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The Department of Interior this week will unveil the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), and it is a big deal.  The DRECP will establish "development focus areas" where the review and approval of large-scale renewable energy projects will be streamlined, and will identify other lands for additional conservation measures.  How much of each - destruction and conservation - and which lands will be affected will be revealed in the draft later this week. 

The DRECP is a big deal because it will propose the most significant changes to how we manage the California desert since Congress first ordered Interior to take better care of the of these lands decades ago.  In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that ordered Interior to establish the California Desert Conservation Area Plan (CDCA) "to provide for the immediate and future protection and administration of the public lands in the California desert within the framework of a …

Time for Desert Communities to Take PRIDE

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The Daily Press and residents of the Victor Valley in the western Mojave Desert are issuing a PRIDE (People Ready to Improve the Desert Environment) challenge to address the many facets of blight that are evident in the region.   As a kid playing in the open desert across the street from my Victorville home in the 1980s and 90s, I would find trash dumped by residents too lazy or cheap to responsibly dispose of tires, furniture and other refuse. 

I have written before about the need for desert communities to respect themselves and surrounding wildlands, in part by minimizing our impact on desert habitat and keeping both the desert and our cities clean.  The lack of respect by some leaves an impression for all to see, but how long we tolerate the mess is ultimately up to all of us.  In a single hour, my sister and I were able to fill five large bags  of trash that we removed from a small patch of Joshua tree and pinyon juniper habitat in the western part of the Victor Valley.  Not lo…

BLM Reviewing Route 66 Management in California

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Route 66 is an important artery providing access to California's Mojave Desert.  Like the two-lane  "Outback Highway" that runs mostly north/south through the region, Route 66 provides east/west access to stunning desert vistas still mostly unharmed by man, giving visitors a chance to share a common experience with past generations.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Historic Route 66 Association are now developing a Corridor Management Plan (CMP) that seeks to align county and Federal efforts to protect this historically significant corridor. 

I am excited about the potential for the CMP to make a visit to the California Desert a richer experience, with more opportunities for folks to learn about and appreciate the history, culture and environment.  When it was first established, Route 66 was part of the evolution of the "faster is better" mindset and engineering that has robbed people of their ability to experience the Mojave, but the "…

Overriding Considerations

What is human society doing differently today that suggests we learned from our extermination of one of the most abundant bird species on the planet?  On the 100th anniversary of the passing of the last passenger pigeon - a bird once so plentiful that migrating flocks of billions of birds darkened the skies - I would argue that we have developed ever more complex language, thought and institutions to justify similar destruction of the environment.  So many people participated in the extermination of the passenger pigeon, and we were left with no good reasons for the bird's disappearance.  Instead of learning from this chapter and recognizing the intrinsic value of wildlife and our moral imperative to protect biological diversity, we have simply found other ways to explain and excuse our actions.

Yes, we can point to the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and other environmental protection efforts that seek to mitigate our impact on ecosystems and wildlife, but even…

Sacrifice Upon Tragedy

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When I hear people compare avian mortality levels at wind and solar projects to the number of birds killed by domestic cats, I hear an insensitive and illogical comparison.  One death toll used to excuse the tolerance of even more deaths.   If that argumentation is how we plan to reason through future human actions, we are in for a very depressing and morally-deprived future. 

To illustrate just how illogical this argumentation is, imagine telling Amnesty International that its efforts to advance peace are meaningless because the United States saves more lives through war.  There is only one correct path, and if you're not supportive of that path, you're wrong and your input is not welcome.  Or imagine someone arguing that examining and criticizing the loss of life in Ferguson is not worth discussing because there are bigger issues at hand.  That's what the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) broadcast on Thursday in a subsequently retracted Tweet (below)…

Article Exposes Shallow Depth of Energy Discussion

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An article grossly mischaracterizing the current state of research into avian mortality at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project quickly exposed the difference between rally-around-the-flag cheerleaders and those seeking to ensure renewable energy follows a sustainable path.  The piece by David Baker published on the San Francisco Chronicle website notes that only 321 dead birds were found at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project from January to June, and casts doubt on the work of scientist Shawn Smallwood who estimated that Ivanpah may kill as many as 28,000 birds per year; Smallwood's estimate was cited in an Associated Press story bringing attention to the incineration of birds at Ivanpah.  David Baker's piece regurgitates a BrightSource Energy press release, and the Associated Press article cites testimony by Smallwood, a scientist who has been published in dozens of peer-reviewed publications and reports.

The Chair of the California Democratic Party&#…

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…