Showing posts from April, 2013

Grijalva Introduces Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act

Congressperson Raul Grijalva last week introduced the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act (H.R. 1799), which would preserve nearly 950,000 acres of open space west of Phoenix.  Among the new designations, the bill would create over 680,000 acres of National Conservation Areas south and north of Interstate 10, over 290,000 acres of new wilderness, and 144,000 acres of Special Management Areas.   The protections would preserve these wildlands for future generations while also protecting habitat connectivity for species like bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and mule deer throughout this corner of the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert Heritage Act joins other legislative efforts currently languishing on Capitol Hill as Congress proves unable to make progress on a range of issues, conservation included.  Senator Feinstein is expected to reintroduce the California Desert Protection Act (CDPA) this year - the bill has enjoyed grassroots and community support since 2010, but Congress has

Devil's Hole Pupfish Recovery Effort

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the results of its April 6-7 count of the Devil's Hole pupfish population, finding 35 observable fish compared to the 63 observed last spring.  Fish and Wildlife Service found 75 fish in the fall of 2012, but noted that the fish experiences natural high and low cycles in its population from fall to spring. Still, the decline between the two spring surveys is concerning, and FWS notes that the species is in continued decline. It may look like just a puddle, but this is the very top level of water that extends down nearly 400 feet of a cavern, although the Devil's Hole pupfish are believed to only inhabit the upper 80 feet where the water temperature is about 93 degrees. We cannot afford to lose any more biodiversity, including that of the Devil's Hole pupfish.  The species has survived isolation in its current habitat for 10,000-22,000 years, enduring harsh conditions and changes.  Groundwater pumping by nearby agricultur

Take Action to Protect Wildlife from Poorly Sited Wind Projects

The American Bird Conservancy organized a petition to the new Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell asking her to protect bald and golden eagles from poorly sited wind energy projects.  At issue is the Department of Interior's consideration of issuing 30-year eagle "take" permits that would make it difficult for wildlife officials and scientists to protect these species.  If we are going to build a sustainable clean energy future, we cannot give industry a free pass to destroy what we are trying to protect. >> Click here to sign the petition. <<

Ode to Silurian Valley

California's desert landscape is a treasure.  Some people see it as a bore, or a wasteland, but what they cannot deny is that it is a wild landscape that offers a stark break from the strip malls and parking lots of Las Vegas or the Victor Valley.  It is not only accessible, but it is expansive -- at least for now. Chris Clarke at KCET wrote a great piece on one very long stretch of road that can give you the full experience of this wild place.  From Joshua Tree National Park to Death Valley National Park, you can traverse nearly 200 miles on a mostly two-lane road and experience the desert. You can start in a Joshua Tree woodland, hike up a mountain where there are juniper and pine, cross sand dunes, and then enjoy the riparian habitat of the Amargosa River at Shoshone.  You may cross some high voltage power lines, and a couple small towns (Baker, the largest, has a population of around 700), but you will mostly find solitude. Especially if you stop, get out, and walk. I thin

Ward Valley

Desert poet, writer, activist, scholar, defender, and hiker Ruth Nolan attended a gathering of desert residents and activists celebrating the 15th anniversary of the defeat of the proposed Ward Valley nuclear waste site.  This place deep in the Mojave Desert provides a solace that is difficult to find in an age of 24/7 news coverage, tragedy and materialism.  What is easy to forget is that each of these "viewsheds" - as we call them in environmental impact statements - has a meaning and a history that is different to each individual and each generation. Ward Valley is sacred to Native American tribes, and its conversion to industrial use would have been a significant loss. A sign points the way to the 15th anniversary of the victory that saved Ward Valley from becoming a toxic waste site.  Photo by Ruth Nolan. Ruth Nolan captures the confluence of modern and ancient at Ward Valley in her poem that she wrote to commemorate the occasion of this victory: Dark Medalli

Breaking Ground: The Future of Moapa

The Moapa band of Paiutes showed solidarity yesterday - along with Sierra Club President Allison Chin, and Congressman Horsford of Nevada - against the continued toxic emissions of the Reid Gardner Coal plant, situated along the Muddy River.   Reid Gardner has been hurting this community since 1965, and the Environmental Protection Agency recently disappointed us by giving the power plant a reprieve from the stricter pollution controls last year. Protesters hold up mock solar panels, with the Reid Gardner Coal plan in the background.  The Reid Gardner facility's toxic emissions not only contribute to climate change, but also directly affect the health of the Moapa community. Photo from Sierra Club. The demonstration march held on Saturday symbolically walked away from the coal plant, and ended up at the site of the future K Road Power Moapa Solar project, which will destroy over three square miles of intact desert habitat to produce roughly 350 megawatts of solar energy usi

Ivanpah Mitigation: Net Gain or Loss?

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and BrightSource Energy just announced that the energy company will purchase 7,000 acres of desert habitat as "mitigation" to compensate for the destruction caused by the company's Ivanpah Solar project in the northeastern Mojave Desert.  Although the deal is being presented as the company satisfying the mitigation requirement,  the description of the lands set aside suggests the company fell short of the expectations set forth when the California Energy Commission approved the project in 2010.   The project approval required the company to acquire at least 7,164 acres of suitable desert habitat for conservation "as close to the project site as possible," but some of the lands are likely over 100 miles from the project. I took this picture in 2010 of a construction marker in the middle of what was then pristine desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  Just a few months later this landscape was being bulldozed and

BrightSource Ivanpah Solar Update

It has been nearly two and a half years since BrightSource Energy began destroying over 5 square miles of intact desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley to build a utility-scale solar energy facility.  After mowing down desert vegetation - some of it potentially hundreds of years old - and installing nearly 300,000 giant mirrors and three "power towers", the company is nearing the point of generating and shipping energy over hundreds of miles of transmission lines to customers far from this corner of the Mojave Desert.  The destruction caused by BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is unnecessary -- during the project's construction, California added more rooftop solar than will be generated by BrightSource, and other companies are building solar facilities on already-disturbed lands. Rare plants, such as the Rusby's desert mallow, Mojave milkweed and Parish club cholla cactus are lost, as are nests of cactus wrens and thrashers, and fora

Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Scattered showers brush past the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in February. The same storm system dusted the higher elevations of nearby Bare Mountains and Spring Mountains in snow.  The Desert National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936, and is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states.  Hopefully urban and industrial sprawl do not isolate this trove of biodiversity from the rest of Nevada's desert wildlands. You should plan a hike at the Refuge if you are in the Las Vegas area, and you can access the area from the Corn Creek Field Station off of I-95, north of the city.

Nevada Considers Cleaner Future...Sort Of

The Nevada State Legislature is considering a bill (Senate Bill 123) that would begin a modest distributed generation program (i.e. rooftop solar) in Nevada.  This would normally be very good news. Even despite the modest size of the distributed generation program, any rooftop solar benefits in Nevada is a major step forward.  Now the predominant state utility company in Nevada, NV Energy, plans to add an amendment to the bill that would (good news) retire coal plants early, and (bad news) increase natural gas generation. The Reid Gardner Coal plant pictured above is located next to a community of Moapa band of Paiute , polluting the environment and harming health with toxic emissions. The toxic Reid Gardner coal plant could be retired as early as 2017 if the plan is approved.  This would be very good news because the residents of Moapa are burdened by the emissions of this coal plant, which was built along the Muddy River in an otherwise scenic corner of the Mojave Desert nort


I got these photos of what I am pretty sure is a Western Diamonback rattlesnake while on a hike with my brother in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, deep in the Sonoran Desert. Luckily it heard me coming, and gave me some warning!