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Interior Approval Threatens Mojave Wildlife

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Interior this month signed the Record of Decision formally approving the Soda Mountain Solar project, despite landscape-level planning that identified this area as a significant opportunity to connect otherwise isolated bighorn sheep populations.  If Bechtel finds a utility company willing to purchase power from the 287 MW project, it will bulldoze nearly 4 square miles of intact desert next to the Mojave National Preserve to install photovoltaic panels that can just as easily be installed on rooftops or on already disturbed lands (more than 400 MW of rooftop solar capacity was installed in the first three months of 2015, alone).

Interior delayed issuing the record of decision for almost a year after it published a final environmental assessment, underscoring the difficulty Interior has faced trying to say yes to this unnecessary and controversial project. The area that would be bulldozed currently provides foraging habitat for bighorn sheep, and the water pumped by the project could …

Ivanpah Bird Mortality Report Released; Data on Separate Project Kept Secret

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Biologists estimate that as many as 1,314 birds died at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) - a solar power tower project that also burns natural gas - from 25 May to 17 August 2015 based on partial searches of the sprawling facility.  Many of the birds died from collision with giant mirrors or after flying through zones of intense heat above the project.  The deaths last summer are in addition to thousands of others caused by the project since it was constructed.

During last summer at least two birds - a peregrine falcon and common raven - were severely burned by the project but still managed to fly close to the project's outer edge before dying, again suggesting that the study may underestimate the number of birds burned in the air space above the field of mirrors.  The peregrine falcon was found in July and euthanized in September; the raven was found already dead.


According to a previous monitoring report, two other birds with burned feathers were found inciden…

Amazing Desert Wildlands Receive Permanent Protection

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When I was young my grandparents took my brother, sister and me on a road trip from our home in the Victor Valley, California to their home in New Mexico, spending a night in Laughlin, Nevada on the way.  My exposure to the desert up until then was limited to the parcels of undeveloped private land scattered across the Victor Valley and surrounding its edges where my brother and I would play, spending most of our time in a 90 acre plot across the street from our home.  At the time, that corner of the desert seemed to offer endless opportunity for exploration, riding our bikes, finding lizards, identifying different wildflowers and insects, before even that lot was bulldozed for a new housing development. 

I remember staring out the window of my grandparent's car on that trip as we traversed Interstate 40, and eventually cutting up Highway 95 in Nevada to Laughlin, taking a dirt road that I think may have been Christmas Tree Pass.  I remember feeling endless amazement as the landsc…

Opposition to Monuments Based on Misinformation

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A majority of Californians have expressed support for three new monuments proposed for California's desert and under consideration by the President.  Voices opposing the designation of new national monuments, however, appear to be driven by misinformation and a distorted faith in Congress to act as a responsible steward of our wildlands.  They claim that conservation has run amok, that monument designations will lock out the public, and that only Congress should decide which lands to protect.

Tyrannical Conservation Designations?
The first claim - that conservation is some oppressive land management regime that has run amok - is relatively easy to dispute.  National Parks, monuments, and wilderness areas - wildlands that are protected from most types of industrial development - account for about 4% of the total land area of the United States.  With that number in mind, consider that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of wildlife species on Earth.  This is mostly dri…

Armed Takeover Another Troubling Step Against Public Lands

Armed extremists occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon's high desert continue to argue that our public lands be handed over to states or private interests to expand economic exploitation.  The sound bite media coverage of this occupation sometimes frames this standoff in a way that fails to convey what is at stake for you and me - the public.   The militia are attempting to rob us of our public lands using force and intimidation, threatening to fire upon any law enforcement effort to renew our access to the occupied lands.  The militia's alternative is to return to a corrupt giveaway of public lands that only leads to destruction and privatization of our natural heritage, a trend we had decided decades ago was not in our national interest. 

The militia say they are speaking for the public, but they are actually speaking for a small slice of the population that wants to do what they want with our lands without limitations or costs.  They'd like to let their …

Suburban Sprawl Continues Creep Across Desert

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The revival of the housing market has renewed a perennial threat to desert wildlands - urban sprawl.  Developers are considering plans for large new suburban developments across the southwest, years after such large developments mostly stalled when the housing industry began to crash in 2006.  At a time when most of our efforts have been focused on protecting public lands from industrial-scale development, urban sprawl underscores the need for local efforts to protect open space under private ownership.

The NASA video above shows the extent of Las Vegas' urban sprawl since 1972.
Along the Mojave River in California, the Tapestry project could result in the destruction of nearly 9 square miles of juniper woodland and chaparral habitat in the Summit Valley to make way for at least 16,196 homes.  The area is popular for hiking, jogging, and mountain bike riding.  During environmental surveys, biologists observed or detected western pond turtles, coastal horned lizards, bobcats, mul…

Final Plans for Public Lands Portion of DRECP Introduce Ambiguity

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The Department of Interior on Tuesday released the final environmental impact statement for the first phase of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which significantly alters the land use planning for public lands administered by Interior in the California desert.  Although the final version expands conservation designations that were popular in the draft DRECP,  it also seems to introduce uncertainty for nearly 802,000 acres of "unallocated" lands that are neither part of conservation nor a development designation.  The public has 30 days to submit any concerns regarding the final draft before it is made official by a Record of Decision.

Subtle Change Has Significant Impacts

If you looked at the draft DRECP released for public comment late last year you probably paid attention to where large-scale energy development would be allowed, and where it would not.  After all, it is the added threat posed by utility-scale energy development to public lands that pro…