Gold and Silver in the Mojave - Images of a Last Frontier

I just finished reading Nicholas Clapp's Gold and Silver in the Mojave: Images of a Last Frontier.   My interest in the desert is mostly in the natural history, but the human history is closely intertwined.  You cannot explore the desert without running into reminders and relics of the relatively recent mining boom, which involved lonely prospectors creating boom towns if they struck a significant deposit of gold, silver or copper.   There are also stories of manipulation and exploitation by corporations and frauds -- something that we still see in our deserts today. 

Other than the random story or two that I have come across in my other desert readings, or from following the adventures of Death Valley Jim, I have not really dedicated much time to learning about the mining history in the desert.  Clapp's book is a great introduction to this history, providing an overview of the histories of a handful of Mojave mining camps.  Plenty of photos bring the late 1800s and early 1900…

BrightSource Suspends Rio Mesa Project

Luckily for the birds using habitat along the Colorado River, part of the bird migratory corridor known as the Pacific Flyway, BrightSource Energy has temporarily suspended its plans to develop the Rio Mesa Solar project.  The California Energy Commission (CEC) staff, wildlife officials and conservation groups expressed concern during environmental review that the project's proposed location and design -- involving the solar power tower technology -- puts birds at risk of collision with the project's thousands of mirrors, or risk of eye damage and burning from superheated air above the project. 

Another downside of the Rio Mesa Project that likely stalled its environmental review is the fact that BrightSource Energy chose a location that contains a lot of microphyll woodland habitat.  According to the CEC preliminary staff assessment, the microphyll woodland habitat type "support[s] 85 percent of all bird nests built in the Colorado Desert, despite accounting for onl…

Black Lava Butte May Be Spared from Wind Project

Element Power appears to have cancelled its plans to build a wind energy project on desert wildlands near Pioneertown and Joshua Tree National Park, according to BLM records.  The company drew the ire of conservationists and fans of the desert when it installed meteorological testing towers, and signaled interest in eventually installing giant  turbines that would stand over 420 feet tall.  Element Power in December submitted a request to relinquish its wind testing right-of-way due to poor wind resources in the area.

Silurian Valley Still Under Threat of Energy Development

Energy company Iberdrola Renewables is still looking for a way to bulldoze a portion of the Silurian Valley, a quiet desert landscape nearly 15 miles north of the town of Baker, California.  Iberdrola as of last year had plans to build a wind energy project in the Silurian Valley, but likely conflicts with Department of Defense training and testing activities forced the company back to the drawing board.  According to BLM records, Iberdrola is now considering building a large solar project, which probably would sidestep conflicts with Department of Defense interests.

Iberdrola has converted over 10 square miles of its wind energy application to a solar right-of-way application, according to the BLM records, although the company has not given up on its wind application.  The company may not plan to use all 10 square miles of the right-of-way application for the solar project, since the current application only describes a 150 megawatt facility, which would require a much smaller footpr…

Calico Solar Project Not Paying the Bills

The owner of the stalled Calico Solar project is asking for a deferral on nearly 600,000 dollars in rent owed for reserving a large swath of public lands.  You might remember the long saga of the proposed Calico Solar project, which will destroy up to six square miles of desert habitat in the central Mojave Desert if California and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials give K Road Power the green light to convert the previously approved plans from solar thermal to photovoltaic technology.   The short version is that the initial project plans were approved in late 2010 despite environmental concerns, but the previous owner went bankrupt and sold the project to K Road Power, which decided to alter the plans enough to warrant further environmental review.

After K Road acquired the project, Southern California Edison withdrew its agreement to buy power from it, and now K Road is stymied by unspecified issues with transmission lines.  The project would require expensive new transmissio…

One Hour, Two People, Five Bags of Trash

It took my sister and I about an hour to remove enough trash from a patch of Joshua tree and pinyon juniper habitat in the west Mojave Desert to fill five garbage bags full of trash, not to mention a few card board boxes that did not fit in the bags.  This is one of the edge effects that population centers have on the desert -- trash that either blows away from the owner or dumped illegally (I'll address the latter in a follow-up post).   The trash can pose a fire hazard, trap or choke some wildlife, and is a blight on the landscape.

But think about how quickly a few volunteers can make a difference  If you're interested, you can always grab a pair of gloves and some trash bags and clean up your neighborhood.  It is quite fulfilling to look back on your favorite desert spot as you haul away the trash.   If you want a more structured project, check out the Mojave Desert Land Trust.  They organize or support clean up and restoration events in the Mojave, including Joshua Tree Na…

BLM Urged to Preserve Ivanpah Linkage

In a rather strong and thorough letter, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in November asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reject First Solar's Silver State South solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, reiterating FWS concerns that the project will reduce or eliminate a critical linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.  FWS' letter preceded a joint letter submitted in December by eight different environmental groups asking the BLM to suspend approval of any additional projects in the Ivanpah Valley until a conservation plan is in place, indicating that BLM decisions impacting the Ivanpah Valley so far have underestimated its biological importance.
FWS Comments on Silver State South Solar

FWS's asks the BLM to work with the applicant to modify the layout of the project if it is not possible to reject the project altogether, suggesting the alternatives already analyzed by BLM do not offer a sufficiently wide habitat linkage. Human development to the west, and t…