Showing posts with the label Mojave Desert

Legal Challenge Filed Against Six Solar Projects in California's Desert

A coalition of Native American and civic groups filed a legal challenge against the Department of the Interior for approving six massive solar power projects in California's desert, alleging that the Department did not conduct adequate environmental reviews and did not properly consult with Native American tribes.  The legal challenge points to several Federal statutes that the Department of the Interior ignored in its "fast track" approval of the solar projects.  The collective intent of the statutes is to ensure that the Federal government fully considers the consequences of its proposed actions -- in this case, providing public land and taxpayer-backed financing to several energy companies so they can build on over 40 square miles of mostly pristine desert habitat and cultural landmarks. The lawsuit challenges the Department of the Interior's review process for the following six solar power projects: BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating

Desert Rain

The Mojave Desert has been pounded by nearly 5 days of rain showers that could result in another beautiful wildflower bloom next spring.   As noted in Chris Clarke's Coyote Crossing , the downside is that invasive plants also benefit from the rains, and could lead to a bad wildfire season.  Indigenous plant species do not provide as much fuel for wildfires as some of the non-indigenous species (and are less nutritious for foraging animals like the desert tortoise), and previous rainy seasons were followed by wildfires that can wipe out acres of old-growth vegetation that will not grow back quickly. Below are some pictures of the swollen Mojave River as it passes through Victorville, California on Wednesday.  The photographs were taken during a break in the weather, but heavy showers resumed in the Western Mojave Desert on Wednesday night.

Alert: Take Action for CDPA 2010

According to the latest news from Capitol Hill, the current omnibus lands bill (a combination of many proposed conservation bills into one piece of legislation) does not currently include the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (S. 2921) , or any wilderness designations in California's deserts.    Senator Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) late last year, but it has not yet been reported from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  CDPA 2010 is unlikely to be included in an omnibus lands bill until it has passed from the committee, but time is running out. Call or e-mail Senator Feinstein's staff to urge them to work to include the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 in the final omnibus bill.  Otherwise, the chances of wilderness protection in California's deserts next year are dim.   CDPA 2010 would set aside over over 1 million acres of pristine desert for conservation, including areas along Historic Route 66,

Glimmer of Hope for the Desert Bill

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would combine several land and water conservation bills into one package--called an omnibus bill--and putting it up for a vote before Congress concludes business at the end of the year.  Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010, S. 2921) could be a part of the omnibus bill.  If CDPA 2010 is not included, or if the omnibus bill never materializes, the proposed National Monuments in California's Mojave and Sonoran deserts may never receive protected status. As a recap for those not familiar with the bill,  CDPA 2010 would balance conservation of natural areas and preservation of recreation opportunities by establishing: Mojave Trails National Monument: 941,413 acres of Mojave Desert along Historic Route 66 and the southern boundary of the Mojave National Preserve.  Many of the valleys in this area were proposed for industrial development, and could still be vulnerable to destructive uses i

Investigation Blasts Stimulus Spending on Destructive Solar

The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity conducted an investigation of projects receiving Federal stimulus funds and found that Washington intentionally ignored environmental damage when granting money to several projects.  Among the recipients singled out by the Center's investigation is BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generation System , which received a stimulus-backed loan guarantee in the amount of $1.37 billion.  The project will be built on 5.6 square miles of prime desert tortoise habitat in the northeastern Mojave Desert. From the Center's report : According to documents, the Obama administration has unequivocally concluded that one of the Energy Department’s biggest stimulus outlays — a $1.37 billion loan guarantee for the massive Ivanpah solar power installation to be built on federal lands in California’s Mojave Desert — will negatively affect the environment. The solar plant represents one of the few dozen stimulus projects required

Silent Spring: The Sacrifice of California's Deserts

By April 2010, the solar rush in California staked claim to dozens of square miles of pristine desert, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Energy Commission (CEC) were on the verge of granting approvals despite concerns about how these projects would transform wilderness into an industrial zone.  The BLM and CEC were accelerating the approval process to the detriment of public involvement, in a hurry to make good on promises by State and Federal leaders that our public land would be used to generate  renewable energy was mounting. How Policy Brought the Bulldozers Months earlier in October 2009, the Secretary of the Interior and Governor Schwarzenegger announced an agreement between the State and Federal governments to speed up the permitting of solar projects on public land in California.  Ironically, they made their announcement at a solar array on Loyola Marymount University's campus, a perfect example of distributed generation or "rooftop solar."

First Round of Solar Projects Cast Shadow on Future of Desert Ecosystem

The first batch of solar power projects approved by the Bureau of Land Management have begun construction and are expected to fragment and industrialize America's remaining southwestern deserts, blocking wildlife movement and driving some plant and animal species closer to extinction.   Although some projects will be built on land that is already disturbed or on privately owned land, the vast majority are on public land with pristine desert habitat.  Although Federal and State requirements will require measures to lessen the impact on plants and wildlife, the long-term impact of these projects is expected to seriously degrade the ecology of the two primary bio-regions in Southern California--the Mojave and Colorado Deserts.     Summary of solar power projects:     Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System Company: BrightSource Energy LLC Project area: 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles) Location: Northeastern Mojave Desert in California

Sierra Club Concerned About Rushed Calico Solar Approval Process

The Sierra Club informed the California Energy Commission's (CEC) that it should not approve the Calico Solar power project given concerns about the impact on desert tortoises on the 7 square mile site.  The Sierra Club objected to the rushed nature of the approval process that did not include adequate opportunities for public input, especially when the revised layout was decided between the CEC and Tessera Solar LLC. According to comments submitted to the CEC and stated during a 22 October evidentiary hearing, the Sierra Club pointed to the unfinished nature of the desert tortoise translocation plan, which the CEC considered sufficient mitigation despite concerns that receptor sites for relocated tortoises would not be adequate.  Also, the fact that construction at the Calico Solar site will begin beyond late October could reduce the ability of biologists to find and relocate tortoises since the tortoises likely will be hibernating. Another very significant point made by the S

Mark Your Calendar: Mojave Desert Land Trust Restoration Event

The Mojave Desert Land Trust and the National Park Service are hosting an event on Saturday, 13 November to restore desert habitat in the Joshua Tree National Park. The efforts will help improve the ecosystem around the Nolina Peak, and will be a good opportunity to learn more about our desert resources while giving back. You can learn more about volunteer opportunities on the Land Trust's website , or email Miz Seita at Here is the information for the restoration event: Date: November 13th (Saturday)   Time: 8:00am - 3:00pm Location: Meet approximately 1.5 miles from the corner of La Contenta Road and Covington Flat Road along Covington Flat Road. (Please RSVP and I will email a map and directions).   Please bring water, lunch, gloves, sunglasses (eye protection), long sleeve shirt, long pants, sunscreen, wide brim hat, and hiking boots. PLEASE RSVP - contact Miz Seita at 760-366-0542 or email

CEC Approves Calico Solar Power Project Despite Strong Objections

The California Energy Commission (CEC) gave final approval for Tessera Solar LLC's 663 megawatt Calico Solar power project.  Dirty solar at its finest, the facility will be built on 7 square miles of pristine desert on public land, home to endangered desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard and a rare plant called white-margined beardtongue.  You can read more about the ecological significance of the site on a previous post covering the testimony of desert expert Mr. Jim Andre. The public land that will soon be destroyed for Tessera Solar's project The Sierra Club issued strong testimony on the CEC's approval of the Calico Solar power project, according to transcripts from the 22 October CEC hearing, noting that the approval process violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Warren-Alquist Act.  The Sierra Club claimed that the CEC's approval would be susceptible to "judicial review and reversal."  So far, no national environment

Just the Beginning: We Are About to Lose 5.6 Square Miles of Pristine Desert

A massive bulldozer arrives in the Mojave's Ivanpah Valley.  Photo from Basin and Range Watch VIPs depart after an ironic celebration of BrightSource Energy's project groundbreaking. Photo from Basin and Range Watch Today's groundbreaking ceremony for BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is over.  The bulldozers are on site, and the company will begin clearing 5.6 square miles of pristine desert for the massive solar project.   It is still early in the construction, but already biologists have had to remove 27 tortoises that were found while clearing the access road.   Imagine how many more tortoises we will lose when they begin clearing the rest of the site. The desert tortoise will capture the spotlight, but it's really just a symbol for a much deeper loss.  The Parish club cholla, Rusby's desert mallow, Mojave milkweed, burrowing owls, and ancient creosote bushes.  The Ivanpah site is a vibrant place, and it is the heart of a v

Calico and Ivanpah Solar Hearings This Week

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is expected to hear any final opposition to the Calico Solar power project on Thursday, 28 October.  Tessera Solar LLC's Calico Solar power project is proposed for over 7 square miles of public land just east of Barstow, California.  The project is eligible for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants and loan guarantees.  The CEC already issued the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision in favor of the project last month, but has to finalize the decision following the end of a 30-day public comment period.  Separately, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is already under initial construction on 5.6 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert, but Basin and Range Watch petitioned the CEC to reconsider its approval of the project.  The CEC will hold a hearing on the petition on Tuesday, 26 October.  Basin and Range Watch noted that the CEC dismissed biological evidence regarding the genetic significance of the tortoise popu

Sign the Petition to Save the Tortoise from Big Energy

There is a way to cut greenhouse gases and protect the environment, but as many Mojave Desert Blog readers are well aware, utility-scale solar is just another destructive attempt by big energy to earn a profit.  Each proposed solar site in California's desert is at least 5 to 6 square miles, and many would be built on pristine desert habitat.  The California Energy Commission and Bureau of Land Management are prioritizing these massive and destructive projects without directing them to less ecologically sensitive sites or investing more in rooftop solar. Tell your State and Federal decision makers that you want them to develop a more responsible renewable energy strategy that preserves our public lands and wildlife for future generations.  Sign the " Save the Desert Tortoise from Big Energy " petition.

CEC Flaunting Endangered Species Act Obligations?

The petition filed by Basin and Range Watch asking the California Energy Commission (CEC) to reconsider its decision on the BrightSource Energy Ivanpah Solar power project raises new information regarding the potential impact of the solar project on the survivability of desert tortoises.  The CEC approved the project earlier this month based on the assumption that a translocation plan and mitigation funds could offset the likely loss of endangered desert tortoises.  Such mitigation funds were designated for the purchase of land elsewhere in the Mojave Desert to be set aside for tortoise conservation. Genetically Significant Tortoise Population In Decline The Basin and Range Watch petition highlights new information from the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) biological opinion for another proposed project in the Ivanpah Valley that charactierized the tortoise population in the area -- identified as the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit--as the least abundant of all of the tortoi

Basin and Range Watch Petition Under CEC Consideration

The California Energy Commission (CEC) announced today that it will consider a petition for reconsideration regarding the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System by Basin and Range Watch .  If the CEC grants the petition--which it will review at a 26 October meeting--the CEC will have to schedule an additional hearing within 90 days to consider whether or not it needs to change its decision with regard to the Ivanpah project.  The CEC approved the Ivanpah project earlier this month, but Basin and Range Watch is arguing that the approval does not give sufficient consideration to the long-term effect the project will have on the health of the desert tortoise population in the Eastern Mojave Desert.  The desert tortoise population found in the Ivanpah Valley is genetically significant, and the project would disrupt a linkage that allows genetic exchange that is important to the species' long-term survival.

Tortoises Through the Lens: A Visual Exploration of a Mojave Desert Icon

The National Parks Conservation Association commissioned a project that gave California high school students cameras, lessons in photography, biology and conservation, and had them photograph desert tortoises in the wild.  Tortoises Through the Lens: A Visual Exploration of a Mojave Desert Icon seems to be a great way to educate local students about the natural treasures that exist in the Mojave Desert, and raise awareness about the plight of endangered desert tortoises.   The book is full of beautiful photographs of the tortoise, but also other desert landscapes and wildlife.  Proceeds from the book benefit tortoise conservation effort. 

Destruction in Ivanpah Begins; Future of Tortoise in Doubt

Billed as a progressive project to replace carbon emitting coal plants with solar power, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (known as Ivanpah SEGS) has been approved by the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   The Ivanpah project is the product of years of false advertising and bureaucratic acrobatics that neglect to admit the true costs of industrial-scale solar energy.  The project likely will displace or kill approximately 30 desert tortoises according to a BLM report, degrade a critical genetic linkage that helps to sustain a healthy desert tortoise population across the Mojave Desert, and destroy thousands of acres of ancient creosote scrub habitat with a high density of rare desert wildflowers.  So why was it approved?  According to the CEC and BLM, the projects significant environmental damage would be mitigated by the removal of desert tortoises before construction, and the purchase and conservation of habitat elsewhere in the Moj

Am I Advocating Sensible Policy or NIMBYism?

I received a thoughtful response to my previous blog post from Ken.  I'm copying the comment and my response below, because I think Ken's questions helped me think more critically about my position on utility-scale solar proposed for California's deserts.  I have noted before on this blog that I do not expect there to be absolutely no development in the Mojave Desert.  This is not a "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) scenario.  The point is to encourage sensible land management in policy that balances the various demands we have for natural resources.  Unfortunately, it is not sensible policy to expect that California's deserts can meet all of our energy needs... From Ken: What are your solutions? It is easy to point out environmental shortcomings of any specific method of producing the energy civilization consumes. It is much harder to come up with viable solutions. I'm not advocating for or against this project, I'm just advocating for everyone

Is Utility-Scale Solar Power Actually "Green" Energy?

As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are set to approve several utility-scale solar power projects this year, there is one question energy companies do not want to answer.  Can we meet our energy needs with solar energy without destroying as much of the environment as mountain-top coal mining or deep sea oil drilling?   California wants to meet 33% of the State's energy needs with renewable energy by the year 2020.  According to CEC estimates, energy companies will need to seize nearly 128,000 acres of land in order to produce enough solar energy to meet the 33% requirement.  That is equivalent to approximately 200 square miles.    The majority of the projects that the BLM and CEC are considering are proposed for pristine desert habitat in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of Southern California.  Many of these proposed sites are on public land . If we were to meet 100% of California's energy needs through utility-scale solar, it w

Mohave Ground Squirrel Study Plan Due in October

The California Energy Commission (CEC) held expects to receive a proposal to study Mohave Ground Squirrel habitat connectivity from researchers by 15 October.  The Mohave Ground Squirrel is a threatened species that is found only in the western Mojave Desert, and lives in habitat being fragmented by urbanization, transportation corridors and now energy development. Solar Millennium sought to build the a large solar power installation near the town of Ridgecrest that would have destroyed the Mohave Ground Squirrel's habitat.  The CEC opposed the project on the grounds that its ecological impact would be too significant, so Solar Millennium is planning to conduct a multi-year study of Mohave Ground Squirrel activity in the area to identify where in the area it could build an industrial operation.  The company's researchers will present their study plan by October 15th. The CEC also revealed, however, that the Public Interest Energy Research Program is also starting a much wid