Desert Lands Policy: Uncertainty Sends Stakeholders Scrambling

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan ( DRECP ) process is proving surprising in how much it could affect -- for good or bad -- California's desert landscape, and it is about to move to the stage of the process that begins to finalize proposed policies in an environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision. The aim of the DRECP is to craft a land management policy that would direct renewable energy development to lands assessed to be of lesser ecological importance, and designate other swaths of land as inappropriate for development. You may be thinking: didn't the Department of Interior just finalize its solar energy policy in the desert? The answer is a qualified yes.  Interior published the final environmental impact statement for its solar energy development policy, which will mostly give the renewable energy industry freedom to build wherever it wants on our southwestern desert wildlands, with a few exceptions .  But the DRECP is like a second lay

Desert Marine Base Expansion Nears Final Approval

The Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in July took one more step closer to expanding the boundary of its facility when it released a Final Environmental Impact Statement -- a document that takes a close look at the impacts of the plan on the environment and current uses of the area.   Once the plan is approved, the base will acquire an additional 262 square miles of adjacent land--well over twice the size of Orlando, Florida--for training scenarios in the open desert, but the expansion would also deprive off-highway vehicle riders of a major recreation area and pose a new burden to desert widlife.   The Marine Base expansion is just one of many demands on desert wildlands that will continue to challenge the stability of the ecosystem and the recovery of already-beleaguered plants and animals. OHV Area Takes a Hit The base expansion will declare a significant portion of the existing Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area off limits, generating sig

Find a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Near You

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) routinely sponsors field trips in the desert and nearby mountains, know as a " rare plant treasure hunt ," checking out local plant populations and looking for some of the rarest plants in our regions.   Intrepid plant enthusiasts earlier this year hiked far into the craggy mountains near Death Valley in search of the rare Panamint Daisy (they found it!), while others scouted out the San Gabriel Mountans and the Mojave National Preserve in search of special blooms.  It's a great way to enjoy desert wildlands and learn more about the ecosystem. The Bristlecone and Creosote Ring Chapters in Southern California have a few more trips planned, and you can check those out at their chapter websites here and here .

Hidden Hills Solar: Chorus of Concern Grows

As BrightSource Energy's construction hums along at its Ivanpah Solar project site in the northeastern Mojave Desert, the company's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project further north is being scrutinized as the California Energy Commission (CEC) accepts comments on a preliminary staff assessment of the project's potential impacts.  As noted earlier on this blog, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was one of the first to note some serious deficiencies in the CEC's staff assessment, with a focus on the project's demand for scarce groundwater supplies.  Since then, several other parties--including Native American tribes, the National Park Service, Center for Biological Diversity, the Nature Conservancy, and the Amargosa Conservancy--have expressed concerns for water and wildlife,  while Inyo County reiterated its expectation that BrightSource Energy compensate it for millions of dollars worth of increased services needed in the remote corner of California where the

Wind Facilities Sparking Wildland Fires

As if climate change-induced drought and aridity were not enough of a stress on our desert ecosystems, industrial wind energy facilities creeping across our wildlands are proving to pose a serious fire risk.  As KCET and Friends of Mojave reported late last week, a wind turbine failure caused a fire near Tehachapi, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert.   And last month, an older wind turbine in the desert of Riverside County and along the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest sparked a fire that luckily only burned about 367 acres before it was extinguished.   The fires are yet another sign that the wind industry and wildlands do not coexist harmoniously, as some environmental groups have suggested .

Understanding the Scale of Destruction

The Ivanpah Solar project being built in the northeastern Mojave Desert will destroy nearly 5.6 square miles of desert habitat when it is completed, an swath of previously pristine desert that is difficult to fathom.  Thousands of creosote bushes, Mojave yucca, cholla cactus, and rare wildflowers. Cactus wrens, thrashers, and burrowing owls.  Kit foxes, and jackrabbits. Rattlesnakes and desert iguanas. And a thriving population of desert tortoises.  All of this is lost in our quest to generate 392 megawatts of solar energy -- electrons that could have been produced more efficiently and responsibly with rooftop solar. [click on image to expand]   The Ivanpah Solar facility creeps across once pristine desert in the northeastern Mojave Desert. Built in three phases, this photo was taken when desert for only two of the phases had been cleared and bulldozed. [click on image to expand] A fraction of phase 2 is visible in this photo, identifiable by the missing vegetation. Further in

Desert Solar Policy to Create Key Exclusion Areas -- With a Catch

As part of the Department of Interior's proposed Solar Energy Development Program, some lands outside of the solar energy zones and variance areas will be identified as "exclusion areas" where solar applications will no longer be accepted.  These exclusion areas include some key conservation battlegrounds, including the Ivanpah Valley, lands within the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, and lands outside of the proposed Monument that were donated or acquired for conservation purposes.  From section ES. of the proposed policy: Under the program alternative, the BLM proposes to exclude specific categories of land from utility-scale solar energy development. Right-of way exclusion areas are defined as areas that are not available for location of ROWs under any conditions... The identification of exclusion areas allows the BLM to support the highest and best use of public lands by avoiding potential resource conflicts and reserving for other uses public land t