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Showing posts with the label desert tortoise

Ivanpah Conservation Initiative Presented to BLM Officials

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Basin and Range Watch members met with officials from the Bureau of Land Management's California and Nevada state offices earlier this month to present the proposed Ivanpah Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which is also supported by the Desert Tortoise Council and Desert Protective Council.  The ACEC is needed to protect biological and cultural resources that would be imperiled by additional solar energy development in the Ivanpah Valley, including a connectivity corridor for the endangered desert tortoise.  As human-induced  climate change challenges desert ecosystems, the genetic connectivity and healthy habitat offered by the Ivanpah Valley will be critical to the survival of many desert species.

The productive meeting with BLM, which took place in Reno,  represents potential reprieve for the beleaguered valley in the northeastern Mojave Desert as a coalition of smaller groups and concerned citizens speak up for a smarter renewable energy policy that does not invol…

Photos of Solar Done Wrong

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Despite a UCLA study indicating that the County of Los Angeles has enough suitable rooftop space for solar panels to meet local energy demand, the State of California and Bureau of Land Management are permitting unprecedented destruction of America's desert landscapes for utility-scale solar facilities hundreds of miles away from urban areas.   One of those projects is First Solar's Desert Sunlight facility that will cover nearly 6 square miles of ecologically intact public lands right next to Joshua Tree National Park.

The Desert Sunlight project would generate about 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity.  For comparison, California's peak electricity demand has reached nearly 52,800 MW.  Meeting our energy needs with projects like Desert Sunlight would require over 100 more of such destructive facilities. And then repeat this destruction in every other state to meet their energy demands.  This is madness and simply unsustainable.

Author Chris Clarke recently had the opportuni…

Environmentalism for the 1%

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The departure of the Sierra Club's chairman -- Carl Pope -- comes during a dark moment for environmentalism.  The vanguards of the green movement have compromised their core conservation ethic, forging alliances with corporations and ignoring the grassroots in order to make way for an unchecked renewable energy industry that is more intent on destroying public lands than saving them.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlights how Pope may be a casualty of this attempt to gain influence in Washington and Wall Street, but his approach has been practiced by other national environmental groups,  including the Wilderness Society, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.  These groups have desperately sought acceptance among business and political elites, painting themselves as job creators by selling out America's landscapes to big wind and solar firms, and then bragging about the jobs they have supported.  What have they gained? Loss of respect among th…

All Eyes on Ivanpah: Will Federal Policy Finally Take Notice?

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BrightSource CEO John Woolard told the media that his company's Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS)--a 5.6 square mile energy facility being built on public land in the northeastern Mojave Desert--has "the lowest environmental impact of any project in solar." Anybody familiar with the Ivanpah Valley--a beautiful desert landscape blanketed by creosote bushes and yucca, and ringed by rocky spires inhabited by bighorn sheep--knows that his statement simply could not be true.  Mr. Woolard's attempts to conceal the destructive impact of ISEGS are failing since the project has actually become an icon of poor solar siting, representing the dangers of building vast facilities on ecologically intact desert habitatThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week was confronted with this reality when citizens submitted a conservation plan for the area, and Washington announced a draft policy that could discourage solar development there. 

BrightSource Project an Icon …

Governor of California Underestimates Rooftop Solar in Statement

The Governor of California last week repeated his support for destructive solar facilities on desert wildlands in a statement filed with an inter-agency group tasked with developing a conservation plan for California's treasured deserts.  The paper probably represents the Governor's attempt to argue for large solar in the desert at a time when distributed generation (local clean energy, such as rooftop solar) is making strides as a more efficient and sustainable path.  Although the document was carefully worded not to ignore distributed generation as part of the solution, on balance it implies that large scale projects in the desert are a necessity because distributed generation cannot be deployed fast enough to meet California's renewable energy demand.

The Governor's office subtly distorts the facts in order to exaggerate the need for the controversial destruction of ecologically intact desert lands for large solar facilities.   In a single paragraph describing the…

First Ivanpah Tortoise Released; Future in Doubt

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According to the Press-Enterprise, a female desert tortoise was released back into the wild last week after repeatedly attempting to escape from her cage on the site of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, where 127 tortoises remain in captivity after they were cleared from desert that has since been destroyed for the energy facility.  The Press-Enterprise journalist accompanied Federal officials during the release of the tortoise near Clark Mountain in an area north of the solar project.  The remaining 127 tortoises probably will be released after winter.  The negative impact on tortoises is expected to increase, as BrightSource Energy has begun clearing more tortoises from ecologically important desert habitat ahead of the bulldozers.

Unfortunately, many tortoises relocated from their original homes are unlikely to survive. Tortoises relocated from a military training site in the Mojave Desert were monitored by biologists, and nearly half of them perished within two yea…

Silver State South Begins Environmental Review

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) started the environmental review of the Silver State South solar project, which would destroy or fragment up to 20 square miles of desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley.  Silver State would be built by First Solar Inc, which has also proposed constructing the 3.4 square mile Stateline solar power project nearby.

The BLM is accepting public comments and issues to consider as part of its initial scoping period until 31 October 2011.  You can email comments toSilverStateSouthEIS@blm.gov .

Points the BLM should evaluate in its environmental review include:
The Silver State South solar project could block a wildlife corridor through the Ivanpah Valley, and particularly cut off an important genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise. Maintaining habitat connectivity is an essential element of the recovery plan for the desert tortoise.The project would destroy desert habitat identified by the Nature Conservancy as "biologically core" and not…

Sizing up Ivanpah Valley Destruction

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The desert will make anything seem small.  Consequently, I think we have a hard time grasping the enormity of the destruction solar and wind companies are proposing when they choose to bulldoze intact ecosystems instead of building on already-disturbed lands or investing in distributed generation.

If you walk across a Mojave Desert valley and find a nice perch on one of the surrounding mountains, you'll overlook a vast expanse of creosote bushes, blackbrush, yucca, and Joshua Trees.  The ecosystem may look harsh, but it is teeming with life -- desert tortoises, bobcat, burrowing owls, bighorn sheep, horned lizards, sidewinder snakes, and kangaroo rats, bees, and specialized moths.

When energy companies show up, they see that expanse of nature as a bank account.  The more they build on it, the more money they can put in their pockets.   So when First Solar announced plans to build in the Ivanpah Valley of the northeastern Mojave Desert, it was obvious they had no appreciation for th…

Salazar Visits Ivanpah

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Secretary Salazar today visited the Ivanpah Valley to view the construction of First Solar's Silver State solar project.  Department of Interior has only approved the first phase so far -- little less than a square mile -- but First Solar has asked for Secretary Salazar's blessing to expand the project to over 10 square miles in a second phase. If this is approved,  First Solar's project would kill or displace endangered plant and wildlife, and block a north-south wildlife corridor connecting desert habitat in Nevada with the Mojave National Preserve to the south in California.  First Solar also wants to build another facility in the Ivanpah Valley -- the Stateline solar project -- which would decimate up to 3.4 square miles of habitat for the threatened desert tortoise.

It's unfortunate that Secretary Salazar and First Solar think they are doing the country a favor by destroying beautiful public land when we can generate clean energy and create green jobs much more e…

Desert Tortoises Love Thunderstorms

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Desert Tortoises spend the vast majority of their lives underground in the coolness of their burrows.  In the cool hours of the morning or evening they may come out to browse the vegetation.  They will also be lured outside during thunderstorms to visit spots where they know the water will form puddles.  These are the times to exercise the most caution when you're on the road.


If you come across a tortoise, do not disturb it.  But if you find it in the middle of a well traveled road where it is in jeopardy, follow these instructions from the tortoise experts: Carefully pick up the tortoise using both hands and hold it upright in its normal walking position. Carry it carefully across the road in the same direction it was heading, and take it no more than a few hundred yards into the desert. Place the tortoise in the shade. Tortoises play a vital role in the desert ecosystem. Their burrows give shelter to other animals that are less capable of doing the digging on their own, such…

Conservationists Offer Alternative to First Solar Projects in Ivanpah Valley

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday hosted a public meeting to discuss one of two solar projects that would be built in the Ivanpah Valley by First Solar Inc, drawing concerned citizens who expressed deep frustrations with a misguided renewable energy policy.   Desert experts and conservation advocates in attendance presented an alternative proposal to designate much of the valley as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in order to protect a crucial genetic linkage for the threatened desert tortoise and habitat for rare plants and other wildlife.   The full ACEC petition can be viewed at Basin and Range Watch's website.   Many citizens at the meeting have long called for distributed solar generation (such as rooftop solar), or placing solar facilities on lands that are already disturbed instead of on ecologically intact areas such as the Ivanpah Valley.

The two projects proposed by First Solar--Stateline and Silver State South--would essentially shut off a …

Environmental Groups Warn Interior on Calico Solar Project

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Three environmental groups--the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Natural Resources Defense Council--threatened to take legal action in Federal court against the Department of Interior's approval of the Calico solar power project, urging instead that it be built on already-disturbed lands.   The challenge represents the most significant step taken by these environmental groups to establish principles in what has otherwise been a rush by the Obama administration to industrialize public lands in the name of "green" energy. 

The nearly 7 square-mile Calico project would jeopardize key habitat in the central Mojave Desert for several imperiled species, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and the small-flowered androstephium.  The groups argue that although solar energy is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions, "utility-scale renewable energy sources and related transmission facilities on federal lands can threaten serious and widespread impacts o…

Public Encouraged to Comment on Stateline Solar Project

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The Department of Interior initiated the environmental review process for First Solar's 3.4 square-mile Stateline solar power project, which would further jeopardize rare plant and wildlife in the beleaguered Ivanpah Valley.  The public is encouraged to attend a meeting on 31 August (details below) or contact the BLM with concerns (POC: Mr. Jeff Childers, jchilders@blm.gov).

Public Meeting to discuss Stateline Solar power project:
Where: Primm Valley Golf Club
1 Yates Well Road
Nipton, CA 92364
When: 31 August, 6-9 pm
POC: Jeff Childers, jchilders@blm.gov
More info: BLM press release, click here.

Some issues of concern to consider:
The Ivanpah Valley's habitat supports a robust and healthy desert tortoise population, which is special since the desert tortoise is in decline throughout its range.The Stateline project will put additional stress on a tortoise population already displaced and jeopardized by the construction of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating …

Death by a Thousand Cuts: Renewable Energy Plans Imperil Desert Ecosystem

Updated information from the Bureau of Land Management depicts the enormous scale of plans to build solar and wind energy facilities on mostly pristine public land, endangering iconic species such as the desert tortoise and golden eagle, locking up prized outdoor recreation areas, and forever changing the character of California's deserts.  The BLM approved a wave of applications in 2010 totaling some 40 square-miles, the most destructive of which continue to face public and legal opposition, and continues to review dozens of additional projects (sampled below) without adequately assessing the cumulative impacts of so much industrial development on desert ecosystems.

Although the Department of Interior is developing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, both plans will likely focus on maximizing industrial development with conservation functions that are unlikely to effectively counteract the ripple effects on natur…