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Showing posts with the label Mojave Desert

Vermont Wind Facility A Perfect Example of Greenwashing

Wind turbines are not green, and the video below shows the ugly side to this utility-scale energy behemoth that is altering thousands of square miles across the country.  Not only do they require massive amounts of steel to produce, they are transported by diesel guzzling trucks for hundreds of miles, tons of concrete is needed to pour their foundations, and wide access roads are bulldozed into the land and mountain ridges where they are installed.  Once the blades are spinning, they become a huge threat to rare wildlife, such as golden eagles, hawks, owls, bats, sandhill cranes, etc.  Research indicates that at least 440,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines, and that number is expected to climb to 1,000,000 per year by 2030 as more wind facilities are constructed.

The video below shows scenes of destruction in Vermont as a mountain ridgeline is blasted away to make way for wind turbines.

This is Green Energy? from Catamount on Vimeo.

But most big environmental organizations …

BLM to Host Public Meetings on Off-Road Plan

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is holding two public meetings to gather information on issues to consider and evaluate as it develops a new off-highway vehicle (OHV,  off-road vehicle, ORV) management plan for the western Mojave Desert.  You can find more information about the meetings by visiting the BLM announcement, but they will be held on 27 and 29 September.
Ridgecrest, 6:30-9:30PM, 27 September 2011, Kerr McGee Center, 100 W. California Ave., Ridgecrest, CA 93555 , phone: (760) 499-5151    Barstow, 6:30-9:30PM, 29 September 2011, Hampton Inn, 2710 Lenwood Road, Barstow, California   92311, phone: (760) 253-2600Hikers, rock hounds, OHV riders, campers, photographers, and people just looking to escape from the daily grind expect the BLM to maintain the desert's natural qualities while providing us access to the places we love, which is a difficult task.  Without a proper management plan and sufficient law enforcement, the desert ecosystem would not be able to sustain t…

Caithness Solar Threatens Heart of the Mojave Desert

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A project proposed by New York-based Caithness Energy could degrade or destroy up to 6.8 square miles of public land identified by the Nature Conservancy study as "biologically core" to the health of the Mojave Desert.  The Soda Mountain Solar Project would be built on pristine desert habitat--mostly creosote scrub--and would likely disrupt an essential habitat connectivity corridor.
Desert experts fear that the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) initial review of the site does not adequately describe the importance of the area and biological resources that likely exist there.  According to the BLM Plan of Development for the project obtained by Basin and Range Watch,  the special status plant survey carried out for the plan of development was only cursory in nature and conducted in December when the extent of botanical resources are less apparent.  The plan of development also reports finding no desert tortoises on the project site, despite the relatively intact tortois…

New Research Describes Two Distinct Species of Desert Tortoise

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It has been 150 years since scientists officially described the desert tortoise as a species.  However, new research published this month indicates that we have actually been sharing the desert with at least two genetically distinct species of the desert tortoise.  Historically, many biologists and wildlife officials assumed the desert tortoise constituted a single species spanning the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in the US and Mexico.  The new research describes genetic, behavioral and physical differences that distinguish the two species of desert tortoise.   According to the research by Robert W. Murphy and Kristin H. Berry, among other scientists, the population of desert tortoise east of the Colorado River (Gopherus morafkai) is genetically distinct from the population to the west (Gopherus agassizii)

The recognition of the two distinct species means that the "Mojave" population (Gopherus agassizii) is actually much more imperiled and occupies a smaller range than previ…

White House Wants to Crush Tortoise Website

The Obama Administration launched its Campaign to Cut Waste today and, among other things, singled out the DesertTortoise.gov website as an example of "waste."   Cutting government waste is an admirable task.  But we should not slash with abandon and end up cutting what could be the most cost-effective form of government transparency and education.  The White House's decision to highlight the tortoise website as an example raises questions about their criteria for defining "waste."

There are certainly examples of unnecessary government websites. One of the examples given was the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website (the Centennial was in 2003).  Information on aviation history is highly available on other websites, school libraries, and television.  Shutting down the Centennial website is unlikely to deprive the American public of a critical source of information on this topic.

But is the DesertTortoise.gov website a waste?  The tortoise is a threatene…

Have We Been Fooled by Calico Solar?

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This is the story of a solar power project that was approved by State and Federal Governments even though the energy company had no way of building it in the first place.  The representatives of the taxpayer are now being asked to turn a blind eye, once again.

Fool me once, shame on you....
Last fall the California Energy Commission (CEC) and Department of Interior approved Tessera Solar LLC's proposal to bulldoze 7 square-miles of public land for a solar power facility in the central Mojave Desert.  Both Washington and Sacramento acknowledged the significant environmental damage the project would cause to the pristine desert habitat, but rushed to approve it so Tessera Solar could qualify for over a billion dollars in taxpayer-backed stimulus funding.  The government approved the project on the basis that Tessera Solar would install thousands of SunCatcher dishes--an unproven and complicated piece of machinery.  

It turns out Tessera Solar may have misrepresented its ability to buil…

Saddleback Butte State Park

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Goldfield wildflowers, sand verbena, creosote bushes, and Joshua trees adorn Saddleback Butte State Park in the Mojave Desert.  The park is one of several desert parks that face closure according to Governor Brown's list of 70 state parks proposed for the chopping block





Ivanpah Solar Project May Displace or Kill Hundreds of Tortoises

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) now estimates that BrightSource Energy LLC's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS) could displace or kill as many as 140 desert adult tortoises, and hundreds of juveniles which are harder to detect during construction.   When the Department of Interior and California Energy Commission initially approved the project, located in the northeastern Mojave Desert, they expected to encounter 38 tortoises on the site.  However, according to the monthly biological compliance report, the construction crews working on the first phase of the project (only a third of the total project) had already displaced 49 tortoises as of February, strongly suggesting that initial biological surveys underestimated the potential biological impact of the project.  The project's destructive impacts leave many asking why BrightSource Energy chose to build its facility on pristine habitat when thousands of acres of already-disturbed land and open rooftops await s…

Calico and Ridgecrest Solar Projects Haunt Pristine Desert

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Two different solar companies--Solar Millennium LLC and K Road Power--have officially revived proposals to build solar power projects on public land in the Mojave Desert.  Both projects have been heavily criticized by biologists and taxpayers (and some biologists that pay taxes) as a waste of money and public land.

Calico Solar Project  K Road Power (and its subsidiary K Road Solar) filed a petition with the California Energy Commission (CEC) on 22 March to modify the original Calico Solar power project, that was approved by the CEC last year.  The company that initially proposed and won approval for the Calico Solar power project--Tessera Solar LLC--could not afford to build the project, and sold the rights to public land to K Road Power.   That company is now proposing slight changes to the original proposal, calling for a mix of photovoltaic panels and the "Suncatcher" design.  Because K Road Solar is changing the original design, they should have to submit to a new environ…

Desert Wildflowers Begin to Bloom

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It's that time of year.  After heavy rains in late December, and some smaller showers in February, the desert wildflowers have begun to bloom.   I find the best source for updates on the status of the bloom is the Desert USA website, which posts photos and information submitted by readers who are fanning out across the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  The updates are organized by region and park, although some areas are not updated as frequently as others.

You can also visit the Anza Borrego blog for updates on widlflower blooms in the vicinity of Anza Borrego State Park.  Apparently there are some great blooms in the Sonoran Desert, and the blog has some amazing photos to back it up. 

Throughout the California deserts, the lower elevation areas are probably the best bet for a fuller bloom right now.  High elevation deserts might need some more time to catch up.   Stay tuned...





Research Highlights Deserts' Role in Sequestering Carbon

New research by the University of California suggests we should take a harder look at the potential carbon sequestration capacity of America's deserts.  According to the study, disturbing approximately 11 square miles of desert habitat could release 6,000 metric tons of carbon per year.  That is roughly the equivalent of putting a fleet of 5,300 SUVs on the road, each traveling 120 miles per month.  Desert plants and soil organisms take in and store tons of carbon each year.   When the desert habitat is destroyed, not only does it lose its ability to capture and store carbon, but carbon locked into the soils is likely to be released. According to the study:
When desert plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbons (C), as sugars, move into the roots and soil organisms.  Carbon dioxide is respired back into the soil, part of which reacts with calcium (Ca) in the soil to form calcium carbonate.  This is how our deserts sequester large amounts of C and thus function to re…

OHV Damage Prompts Jawbone Canyon Trail Closures

An update on the "Friends of Jawbone Canyon" website highlights recent route closures as a result of illegal off-highway vehicle use causing damage to private property and areas of critical environmental concern.  Jawbone Canyon is a checkerboard of public and private land on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, just northeast of Tehachapi and southwest of Ridgecrest.  Some of the public land is designated as protected under the Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

In partnership with private landowners and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), dozens of miles of OHV routes were opened to the public to enjoy the natural splendor of the area.  An unlawful few, however, began to create new routes, irreparably harming undisturbed land, natural springs, and even cutting private fences.  Some routes have been closed as Friend of Jawbone (FOJ) Canyon works in partnership with Kern County and the BLM to restore damaged lands.

There is such thing as re…

Marine Base Expansion Will Limit OHV Recreation

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The Twentynine Palms Marine Base released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (draft EIS) for its proposed expansion, which would put over 146,000 acres of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area under military control for live-fire exercises.  The military has reportedly met with OHV groups to work out arrangements that give OHV users access to part of the exercise area when it is not being used by the military.  As a result, the Marines' preferred alternative would let OHV users access a portion of the area during 10 months out of the year.

The Johnson OHV area is one of the largest in the Mojave Desert, and draws thousands of OHV enthusiasts each year.  OHV use takes a heavy toll on the viability of desert habitat, so much of the area has already been degraded by years of intense OHV use.  However, desert plant and wildlife would still be impacted by the heavy military use of the area, and the Marines expect that anywhere from 121 to 189 adult desert tortoises could…

Speak Up For An Energy Policy That Preserves Pristine Desert

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The Federal government is currently reviewing a broad policy shift that could encourage solar energy development on thousands of square miles of pristine public land in America's deserts, according to its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  Unfortunately, the new policy fails to consider a much better alternative, which is to encourage solar energy development on rooftops and on already-disturbed lands.  After a summary of the policy's potential impacts, you can read below to learn how to submit public comments on the policy as a concerned citizen, and urge a smarter approach.

Summary of the Policy:
The Departments of Interior and Energy are jointly reviewing three alternative policies for permitting solar energy on public land.   Each alternative makes a different amount of public land available to energy companies, but the government estimates that companies will use 214,000 acres (334 square miles) within 20 years.

The "No Action Al…

Destructive First Solar Projects Loom Over Ivanpah Valley

Southern California Edison announced this month a plan to buy solar power from First Solar Inc.'s proposed Silver State South solar project.    The "power purchase agreement" gives the solar energy company more confidence that its project would be economically viable.  However, the Silver State South project is proposed for an ecologically important area of the Mojave Desert known as the Ivanpah Valley, which is home to an abundant and thriving desert tortoise population, according to biological surveys of the area, even though the species is declining in the rest of its range.  Biologists have also discovered a new plant species in the area.

First Solar has not received Federal approval to build the Silver State South project, which would destroy over 12 square miles of pristine desert.  The Department of Interior approved the smaller Silver State North project--approximately 500 acres--but declined to give the green light to the South project, citing concerns over impa…

Gone fishing...

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Desert Tortoise Monitoring Report Available

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The Desert Tortoise Recovery Office released the draft Range-wide Monitoring of the Mojave Population of Desert Tortoise: 2010 Annual Report.   The surveys of key desert tortoise habitat revealed higher densities of tortoise in some areas than were observed in previous years, although the report judges that for 3 of the monitored areas, the densities are consistently high.  However, because of refinements in the survey techniques and resources available for the surveys, accurate population trends cannot be established from the surveys yet.

According to the draft report, tortoise density in the Ord-Rodman critical habitat unit was 7.5 animals per square kilometer.  The surveys in 2008 and 2009 noted a density of 6 per square kilometer.   Surveys in the Ivanpah critical habitat unit observed only 5 tortoises, resulting in an estimated density of 1.1 tortoise per square kilometer.  This is significant because construction crews for the nearby Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System--being…

Solar PEIS Public Meetings Announced

The Department of the Interior and Department of Energy have announced a series of public meetings during which concerns about the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement  (Solar PEIS) can be expressed.   The Solar PEIS outlines Washington's plan to site renewable energy development on public lands throughout the American southwest.  The plan could impact hundreds of square miles of pristine desert habitat, including large plots of land in the Mojave Desert.  You can access the State-specific chapters for the PEIS at the Desert Protective Council website or the Solar PEIS website.

Below is a list of the public meetings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 1:00pm:  Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC Downtown, 815 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005Monday, February 7, 2011 at 7:00pm:  Imperial County Admin. Center, 940 W. Main Street, Suite 211, El Centro, CA 92243Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 7:00pm:  Hyatt Grand Champions Resort, 44-600 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, CA 92210T…

Green vs Greed: Disentangling Environmentalism from a False Dilemma

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The Sierra Club's legal challenge against the Calico Solar power project drew some criticism, with many describing the situation as "Green vs. Green."  This is not a surprising reaction since the headlines depict the situation in simple terms: environmentalists opposing the solar energy they have been demanding.  Although the Sierra Club's petition in California's Supreme Court represents the first serious challenge from a national environmental organization against a solar energy project,  environmentalists have opposed other forms of renewable energy in the past.  The difference between renewable energy and "green" energy has become ambiguous as many corporate and political interests begin to don green masks and demand unwavering support from Americans looking for a solution to our world's environmental woes.   Distinguishing between green and greed is crucial if environmentalists want to adhere to their basic principles--advocating for a clean en…

A Riddle for the New Year

What is the difference between a hydropower dam that submerges vast swaths of public land to feed our energy needs, and several massive utility-scale solar energy facilities that fragment pristine desert habitat?
Both count as "renewable energy"They will both require costly and destructive transmission linesThey drive endangered species closer to extinction and upset the health of entire ecosystemsUtility-scale solar and wind power facilities are not the "guilt free" answers to global warming.  The blessing of solar and wind is that it is scalable--we can put solar panels and wind turbines in our back yard, in the middle of cities, and on rooftops.  Until we realize this potential, we are stuck in the same destructive energy paradigm that brought us the Glen Canyon Dam, dwindling fish stocks, and submerged wilderness.  But this time the the bulls-eye will be on the Mojave Desert as bulldozers make way for fields of mirrors and solar panels.  This is not the future. …