BLM Underestimating Impacts on Desert Tortoise?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is estimating that only 12 desert tortoises will be affected by the construction of the proposed Desert Sunlight Solar power project.   However, biologists have found at least 22 active desert tortoise burrows, suggesting the number of tortoises could be much higher than the BLM report acknowledges.  The project is proposed by First Solar and would consume 6.8 square miles of public land adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park.

Why does this matter?  The BLM tortoise population estimates are considered by the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy when trying to assess the overall impact of a proposed energy project.  The lower the number, the easier it is for big energy companies to build their projects on public land, and receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants.

The BLM estimates only 12 tortoises on the solar site, but admits there are at least 22 active burrows.
You can tell them to check their math.
Photo from BLM Draft EIS.
The BLM already underestimated the number of desert tortoises on another solar project site in California.  In the separate case,  BLM stated that they expected to remove 32 desert tortoises at a project site currently being bulldozed by BrightSource Energy in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  After only a month of construction, workers have already moved 40 tortoises, and the number continues to climb.  The BLM should not make the same mistake with the Desert Sunlight project.

What you can do:

The BLM is collecting comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) until 27 November.  The government currently "prefers" the layout of the project site that would harm a dense population of tortoises, including all 22 active desert tortoise burrows, but you can speak up and let them know you disapprove of the Desert Sunlight solar power project.

You can participate in the public comment process and tell the BLM that 1.) You prefer that solar projects be built on already disturbed land or on rooftops, and not pristine desert habitat near Joshua Tree National Park, and 2.) the BLM should conduct a thorough survey of the proposed "Desert Sunlight" site in order to accurately assess the number of desert tortoises that will be harmed by the project before making a decision on which site layout is preferred.

Email your comments by 27 November to the BLM Project Manager, Allison Shaffer at:

You can read more about the Desert Sunlight comment process, and download the biological assessments available on the BLM website.  You can also read a previous Mojave Desert Blog post on the topic, and learn about the overall threat posed by energy development in the Chuckwalla Valley--where the Desert Sunlight project would be built--on the Basin and Range Watch website.

Photo of the proposed site for the Desert Sunlight project.  Note the ample desert dandelion blooms - tortoise food!  Photo from Basin and Range Watch website.


  1. It seems that Bright Source isn't too bright!!

  2. Building a solar plant on the back of dead tortoises ........... not my idea of GREEN WORLD


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