Doubts About Desert Tortoise Translocation Plans for Ivanpah and Calico Solar

Hearings held by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in late August cast doubt on plans to translocate endangered desert tortoises from the proposed Ivanpah and Calico solar power sites.  According to transcripts from the hearings, desert tortoise experts testified that tortoises moved from the proposed solar sites are more likely to die, and could also do harm to the sites to which they are moved.  According to one biologist, the results of the translocation of 158 tortoises from Fort Irwin resulted in 49% mortality in within months of translocation in 2008, and this year alone 11.6% of the remaining tortoises have died (see correction of previous post).

The hearings raised concerns about the sites selected to receive tortoises translocated from solar energy sites, the potential for the spread of disease, inadequate information, and last-minute changes in the plans:
  • In one example, the expert noted that some tortoises removed from the Calico Solar power project (proposed by Tessera Solar LLC) would be moved to land adjacent to private property that is not fenced and is known to host packs of dogs that could kill the tortoises.  
  • The hearing also reiterated the concerns of the California Department of Fish and Game that Tessera Solar had not yet identified sufficient receptor sites for tortoises moved from the Calico solar site.
  • In the case of the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (proposed by BrightSource), the hearings focused on plans to move tortoises to the Mojave National Preserve .  
  • Witnesses and intervenors noted that the plans to move tortoises to the Preserve have not been fully analyzed to assess the risk to tortoises already in the Preserve--potentially by introducing diseased animals--and the move would be a longer distance than originally planned. 
  •  A witness from the Mojave National Preserve also testified that the officials at the Preserve had not yet decided if they could accept tortoises from the Ivanpah site this year.
  • A witness that testified on behalf of BrightSource Energy at one point downplayed the concerns of other experts, claiming that it did not matter what happened to the translocated tortoises since the public already views them as "taken"--or lost--tortoises.  The witness' testimony, however, did not account for the responsibility of government agencies to ensure a minimal impact on the endangered desert tortoise.
What does this mean for the Mojave Desert?
Utility-scale solar power projects are projected to displace hundreds of endangered desert tortoises.  The CEC previously assessed that the impact on the tortoises could be mitigated by translocating the tortoises to other parts of the Mojave Desert with suitable habitat.  The Fort Irwin experience, however, suggests that many of the translocated tortoises may actually die, and could place stresses on the receiving sites.  This could ultimately do more harm to the tortoise population, and alters what the CEC previously thought about the impact of energy development in desert wilderness.


  1. Who would do this? The sun shines everywhere, why condemn tortoises to death? That is clearly in opposition to the earth-friendly ideals that gave birth to solar-power.


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