Defending the Desert

A 501(c)(3) Non-profit organization

 
 

 

 

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Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands of the desert.

Come visit and experience the great beauty of spring wildflowers, vast open vistas, bird watching trails, and wildlife viewing.

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Cancellation of Searchlight Wind Project Protects Tortoises and Golden Eagles

^Searchlight Hills, Nevada.

April 19, 2017 - Crews are now removing the wind testing meteorological (MET) towers for the Searchlight Wind Project which was proposed to be located on public lands in the Piute Valley about 50 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Vegas Field Office, the agency is now in the process of closing the application for the project, 18 months after a federal judge voided the federal approvals for the project because of the likely harm to desert tortoises and golden eagles.

In March 2013, the BLM issued a Record of Decision approving construction of the Searchlight Wind Energy Project by. The project would have sited 87 industrial scale wind turbines, each 427 feet tall (about the height of the Palms Hotel), on the ridges and uplands next to the town of Searchlight, Nevada and bordering scenic Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The project would have marred the area’s scenic beauty, threatened the desert tortoise, killed golden eagles, desecrated the view of Spirit Mountain—sacred to Native American Tribes—impacted the historical mining district, and damaged the future tourism potential of the community. The project would have been sited on 9,300 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The project site borders the Piute-Eldorado Area of Critical Environmental Concern, designated to protect the desert tortoise.


On October 30th, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du vacated the federal permits for construction of the Searchlight Wind Project in Southern Nevada. Judge Du found that environmental analyses prepared by the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) inadequately evaluated the dangers that the industrial-scale wind project would pose to desert wildlife. She cited data missing from the agency surveys, inadequate assessment of potential threats to golden eagles, desert tortoises, and bats. The BLM claimed that only 3 golden eagle nests were within 10 miles of the proposed project, but it was later confirmed by the Nevada Division of Wildlife that the number of golden eagle nests was 28.


Kevin Emmerich, CoFounder of Basin and Range Watch, said, “We applaud the Bureau of Land Management for finally putting an end to this ill-sited wind project. There are clearly better alternatives for renewable energy utilizing rooftops and other locations in the built environment that would produce the same amount of megawatts. It is time for the BLM to manage this special location to protect the view-shed, wildlife, property values and cultural resources in a way that will bring tourist dollars to the region.. This is no place for industrial scale energy.”

The BLM is considering another large-scale wind energy proposal in this region on over 35,000 acres to the west of the former Searchlight Wind Project. It would be called the Crescent Peak Wind Project and be located right next to the Mojave National Preserve and Castle Mountains National Monument. Basin and Range Watch has requested that the BLM designate the entire region a “Large-Scale Energy Free Zone” in their upcoming Southern Nevada Resource Management Plan.

“If a federal court ruled that there are too many potential harms to build an industrial-scale wind project near Searchlight, surely a far larger project like Crescent Peak with far more impacts should not be developed” said Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch’s Executive Director. BLM expects to publish its Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Crescent Peak project later this year.

Judge Du’s October 30, 2015 order can be viewed here: http://www.basinandrangewatch.org/Searchlight-Order-Granting-Vacatu-10-30-15.pdf


The plaintiffs are represented by Dave Becker, an environmental lawyer from Portland, Oregon, and Jim Boyle of Holley, Driggs, Walch, Fine, Wray, Puzey & Thompson in Las Vegas.

Cadiz Groundwater Storage Project--A Bad Idea in the Desert

April 11, 2017 - The Trump adminsitration removed one of the main obstacles holding up the Cadiz water storage project, changing an adminisyrative finding from 2015 that the company seeking to store groundwater under the Cadiz Basin had to undergo extensive environmental review to use 43 miles of existing railraid route for its water pipeline. This original finding would have meant the Cadiz water company would need to obtain a Right-of-Way to use this railroad Right-of-Way across Bureau of Land Management land. The company is seeking to pump groundwater from wells west of Needles CA and pipe it to the Cadiz basin, to then sell to urban areas in Orange County.

The project may also be seeking financial aid from the federal government, as it was mentioned in a memo by the Trump Administration for a possible infrasctructure stimulus pick.

Check out Mojave Desert Blog for an excellent summary of the current situation concerning this unsustainable proposal.

First Solar Exiting Their Yieldco

^Desert Sunlight Solar Farm under construction in 2012 in Chuckwalla valley. The project was constructed by First Solar.

April 11, 2017 - In one of the surest signs that utility-scale solar projects in the desert are grinding to a halt, First Solar is selling its interests in the yieldco vehicle 8Point3 Energy Partners LP, a separately-traded entity on the New York Stock Exchange. This yieldco is a financial instrument designed to raise funds for project development, and was a joint venture with SunPower Corporation. Yieldcos were a popular method during the Big Solar heyday a few years ago to finance a pipeline of projects.

First Solar, Inc., is one of the largest solar manufacturers and developers, having built such mega-projects as Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County CA. First Solar said it is planning to scale back to manufacturing new lines of solar panels, and not project development or operation.

The Trump Adminitsation has shifted the focus of energy on public lands away from renewable energy and onto fossil fuels. In addition, California and Nevada have acheived a build-out of utility-scale solar so much so that peak times of day are flooded with too much electricity on the grid. Thus, our analysis is that even despite Trump, a slowdown in this sector was going to happen anyway due to grid congestion and the unwillingness of utlitiies to buy more electricity from solar projects until storage options are made available. This of course, is a great time for Distributed Generation solar and battery storage to take the fore. See our story on this >>here. Other news media have been very slow to accept that this trend is happening.

Your Input Needed for Piute-Eldorado Area of Critical Environmental Concern

^The town of Searchlight, Nevada, as seen from the new Castle Mountains National Monument in California, looking across Piute Valley.

March 29, 2017 - Southern Nevada - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Vegas Field Office is seeking comments from the public as they begin the process of developing an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)  Management Plan for the Piute-Eldorado Valley ACEC, located in the southern portion of Nevada.

Public meetings will be an open house format. See schedule below:

April 4 – Boulder City Library, 701 Adams Blvd. 6-8 p.m.
April 5 – Searchlight Community Ctr, 200 Michael Wendell Wal. 6-8 p.m.
April 11 – Clark County Library 1401 E.  Flamingo Road, Las Vegas 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
April 12 – Laughlin Town Hall; 101 Civic Way 6-8 p.m.

Written comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:

Email: srowe@blm.gov
Fax: (702) 515-5023
Mail: Bureau of Land Management, Attn: ACEC Plan
4071 N Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130

Please note: You should be aware that your comments including your personal identifying information may be made publically available at any time.

For questions call: Suzanne Rowe, Project Manager (702) 515-5017.

Save Nevada Deserts: Put Renewable Energy in the Built Environment

March 27, 2017 - We support Nevada State Assembly Bill 270, to restore Nevada's beneficial net-metering policy. The bill was recently introduced and is being revieewed, and we find it quite advanced: it would set a minimum credit of 11 cents per kilowatt hour for rooftop solar generation that is fed back into the grid. The bill in our opinion correctly monetizes the value of rooftop solar, by specifically giving a credit of 9 cents for avoided new natural gas plants having to be built, and avoided transmission and distribution costs. The other 2 cents would be based on the environmental benefits of avoided carbon dioxide emissions and avoided water consumption.

The old argument of a cost shift onto people living in apartments and mobile homes is a false argument, since utilities pass on capital costs of new transmission lines and power plants to all customers avyway--the less of these that will be built, the less utlities will need to pass on those costs to all ratepayers. The California Energy Commission is proposing to build a new peaker natural gas plant in the Los Angeles area, the Puente Power Plant. Instead of this polluting fossil fuel plant, more rooftop solar panels with battery storage could eliminate the need for this new power plant.

Rooftop solar generators would still be responsible for fixed charges that are paid by all utility customers, but otherwise this is a good credit for rooftop generators.

Register your "Yes" vote if you are a Nevadan, in this Assembly opinion page that state legislators review when they decide how to vote. Yes on AB 270:

https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/79th2017/A/?ct=t()&mc_cid=41e57ab8a5&mc_eid=fb94bf0a2b

In a recent interview, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, discussed California's excess of electricity clogging the grid at peak times of day, and how Distributed Generation with battery storage would be valuable to alleviate this problem. Also, changing when people use heavy amounts of electricity--described as time of use--will be needed with increased renewable generation.

Picker says, "The first people who will do time of use will be those who have solar panels on their roof that are paid for by net metering. Most of them decided to be energy producers; they’re going to make their own electricity, but they are going to sell their excess. That’s the crazy thing: They’re not just making electricity for themselves, but they’re selling it back to the rest of us in the system. The system has to be plug-and-play so customers can plug it in and the system says, 'Here is a battery, here is an electric vehicle, here is a solar.' You don’t have to worry about it.... [A]ll of this is changing the nature of the utilities. As a matter of fact, it probably won’t make sense for the electric utilities to sell electricity anymore, or be the only ones who sell it. They should provide the platform, the infrastructure that allows people to use electricity to drive carbon out of their homes, and out of our industry. For a lot of people this will be a big change because they’re going to have to think about their energy use, both in terms of their personal use and their transportation choices."

Nevada State Assembly Bill 206 has also been introduced this month, seeking to raise the Nevada Renewable Energy Portfolio standard to 80% by 2040. But the bill has no provisions to fix the state's broken net-metering rooftop solar energy policy, which has been hindered by utility interests. Without that provision added to the bill, we fear utility-scale solar projects that tear up natural desert communities will be favored. We do not want to see any more desert tortoise habitat bulldozed for solar projects when abundant sunlight shines down on the empty rooftops of thousands of houses and commercial buildings in the state.

Foretunately the bill counts energy efficiency as fullfilling the RPS, something which California still does not do towards its RPS stranegly. So the bill has promise, but needs provisions added to protect wildlands from energy development, and fix the net-energy metering policy in the state to allow this sector to expand. And lessons need to be taken from California's problems integrating so much utility-scale solar projects into the over-burdened grid.

Marines Order Coyote Kill along with Tortoise Translocation -- This is Unacceptable

coyote

March 22, 2017 - Red Alert: Call the 29 Palms Marine Corps base Public Affairs office at (760) 830-5310 and tell them not to start killing coyotes!

The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center is hosting a coyote hunt in an attempt to "save" desert tortoises, possibly as a mitigation for the 1,500 tortoises they are about to move (translocate) off of 49,000 acres of Mojave Desert habitat for large military vehicle maneuvers. This is definitely not a "conservation action" as described below. It is impossible to remove coyotes. Past attempts to kill coyotes to save tortoises have not worked. If the Marines want to help 1,500 desert tortoises, the best action is to avoid expanding the base and leave the tortoises alone in their natural habitat.

This is a major admonition that desert tortoise translocations results in unacceptably high mortality, as tortoises are removed from their home ranges and released in areas strange to them where they do not have a memory of their favored burrows and other shelters. Translocated tortoises often travel long distances in an attempt to return to their familiar home ranges, and during these wanderings they become very susceptible to natural predations by native species such as coyotes and ravens.

This is not the fault of the coyotes, but the fault of modern pressures to develop the desert and expand destructive management practices such as military maneuvers into the homes of tortoises and coyotes. The so-called mitigation of killing coyotes is a false action that will not help recover the tortoise, and will only disrupt desert ecosystems more. Coyotes are a native, natural species that belong to the Mojave Desert. Tanks, Humvees, bombing, live-fire exercises, and military maneuvers do not belong to the desert. The military has enough land to carry out tests and training, they do not need to keep expanding.

An unacceptably high tortoise mortality resulted from the Ft. Irwin Army base expansion where nearly 50% of desert tortoises suffered mortality after being removed. Coyotes were blamed for predating many tortoises, and claims were made that a drought was increasing coyote predation on tortoises. But the evidence we have seen is that translocation itself is the cause of mortality, not any unusually high number of coyotes, or drought conditions, or subsidized predators. The simple cause is the current politically-agreed upon need to take more desert tortoise habitat for destructive development and military usage. In other words, the continued expansion of the Military-Industrial Complex. This coyote hunt shows that the military believes a similar high tortoise mortality is expected, without extreme measures to "protect" translocated tortoises who are placed far from their safe home ranges.

The Coyote hunt should be halted, and if tortoises are to be translocated, other, better mitigation measures should be taken in order to safeguard translocated tortoises, such as more artificial burrows constructed and tortoises watched over and monitored with GPS tags to track their movement at a much higher intensity then simply dumping them into new territory and expecting them to fend for themselves. We cannot rely on translocation to save tortoises, it is a failed mitigation measure. But blaming coyotes is not the answer.


Call the 29 Palms Marine Corps base Public Affairs office at (760) 830-5310 and tell them not to start killing coyotes!


The information we obtained from the Marine Base reads:


"Folks,
MCAGCC [Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center] will host a coyote hunt ca. 0600-2200h each Saturday and Sunday 25 & 26 March 2017 in the Sand Hill, West, Gypsum Ridge, East, Cleghorn Lake RTA.
A sixth RTA (Acorn or Prospect) may be included. There will be two hunters per RTA on each day, with their focus probably dawn and dusk (e.g., two hunters in Sand Hill on Saturday, and two hunters in Sand Hill on Sunday). See program notice below.


"The hunters must have a current CA Hunting license (which requires Hunter Safety Training) and obey all normal rules (e.g., speed limits, no off-MSR vehicle traffic in Restricted Areas) for use of the RTA. The CLEOs will operate the program, hunters will be equipped with range radios to communicate with BEARMAT.


"CALL FOR CONSERVATION ACTION PARTICIPATION In support of the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs (NREA) Division's coyote depredation program, volunteers are invited to participate in a coyote depredation hunt. To be considered, please send your name via an email to russell.elswick@usmc.mil NLT Friday, March 17, 2017 with your full name, contact phone number and email address. After a lottery draw, a limited number of volunteers will be notified and invited by NREA to participate in the event. To participate, volunteers must be available for an in-brief at 1830 on 24 Mar, possess a current California hunting license, and have a 4x4 transport to get them out to the Range Training Areas where the hunt will occur. The hunt will go on 25 and 26 Mar, and each volunteer will be assigned a day and hunting area. The purpose of the depredation program is to reduce the numbers of coyotes that are unnaturally inflated in the local area due to human subsidies. Elevated coyote numbers prove a safety risk to residents, and are a significant factor in the mortality of the desert tortoise."

Basin & Range Watch Gets Out to Visit Congressional Offices, Attend Conferences, and Educate Kids

March 13, 2017 - Thanks to your generous donations we have been busy getting out and about in our continuing conservation activities. On February 24 and 25, 2017, we attended the Desert Tortoise Council annual Symposium in Las Vegas NV where we also had an informational table about our nonprofit. The latest science about desert tortoises was presented and we will report on this later.

On March 2 and 3, 2017, we attended the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where we were on two panels. One was about large-scale solar in the desert and better alternatives such as rooftop solar. We showed students and public participants the impacts that have accumulated over the years from utlity-scale solar projects, and how policy obstacles--not technology--has held back Distributed Generation. Attorney Dave Becker of Portland OR was on our panel, as well as Lisa Belenky of Center for Biological Diversity. The second panel was about pinyon-juniper woodland impacts and removal, Lithium mining, and military base expansions in the Great Basin. More on these panels soon.

Executive Director Laura Cunningham was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Pacific Climate Conference in Pacific Grove last week, where the latest science is discussed concerning reconstructing past climates from proxy data such as pollen analysis of lake cores and ocean sediments, tracking El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycles, drought and the Atmospheric River, and other topics. Work is moving forward on reconstruction of past climate and vegetation from lakes and meadows in the Great Basin. This has implications for understanding future climate.

We also gave a field class to students at the Vernal Pool Preserve by the University of California at Merced, in the San Joaquin Valley CA. It was great to work with young people about natural history and writing. Some of the students are developing an app that will be a digital field guide to the species on the preserve, that students can use to learn about the tremendous biodiversity there. During the morning we saw a burrowing owl fly out of a ground squirrel burrow, two bald eagles, numerous geese and sandpipers, flocks of horned larks, a coyote, and wildflowers beginning to bloom after a very rainy winter.

And importantly, Basin & Range Watch during the last month has visited the offices of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Representative Ruben Kihuen (D-NV 4th District) in Las Vegas NV, to discuss issues of concern to us in the desert: public lands, energy development, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository, and military base expansions, as well as our proposal for a wind energy-free zone in Piute Valley in southern Nevada. We plan to visit more offices of our elected officials in Nevada and California in the coming weeks and months.

^Students at UC Merced in the San Joaquin Valley learn about grassland species, examining the sign of burrowing owls at a California ground squirrel burrow.

^Poster at the Pacific Climate Conference on geophysical characters of a lake sediment core in the Utah Great Basin.

^Slide showing genetic connectivity models across the Southwest Deserts for the Desert tortoise, shown at the Desert Tortoise Council Symposium.

^Last but not least, we had good discussions with staff of our elected officials in Congress. Here is the plaza near the Court building in Las Vegas NV, where Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has her local office.

The Sierra Club Desert Report Tells Our Story

March 12, 2017 - Read the Desert Report, news of the desert from Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee expertly edited by Craig Deutsche. Our Executive Director Laura Cunningham writes aboput how Basin and Range Watch got started defending the desert, and what our plans are for continuing. Our good friend Terry Weiner, of the Desert Protective Council, writes a parallel article about how this venerable organization has perservered through the decades also defending the desert, and is unfortunately dissolving this month. Basin and Range Watch is taking over the organizations duties and continuing its mission. Stay tuned.

See the Desert Report at: http://www.desertreport.org

Please consider a donation to help publish this valuable journal that covers California and Nevada desert issues. We have been cooperating with Desert Committee friends and colleagues for many years and value their work in desert conservation.

 

What's in Store for the Desert with a Trump Administration?

November 15, 2016 - According to Roll Call, Republican House committee chairman Kevin McCarthy sent a letter yesterday to all government agencies requesting that no new regulations move forward in the remaining months of the Obama administration.

November 10, 2016 - Now that we have a new President, Basin & Range Watch will be strategizing for how our public lands, desert ecosystems, local communities, and environmental laws may be impacted. The largescale renewable energy push into desert wildlands may slow, but we will continue to push for better Distributed Energy Resource policies, such as rooftop solar, to bring CO2 emissions down. We will also be vigilant about preserving our public lands from privitization or land transfers. Government accountability and transparency will remain a focus for us, as it has in the past. Preserving our new national monuments will also be someting we will strive for.

We are well-positioned in this new era since we have worked hard to build a coalition of people from all political views who want to keep our desert free from industrialization, fragmentation, and closed access.

Stay tuned for our renewed push to protect our desert wildlands and wildlife. We are gradually redesigning our website to follow the latest trends in resource management, conservation issues, and threats. New look, new trends.

^Desert near the town of Ocotillo CA, west side of the Imperial Valley.

Basin and Range Watch is honored to be able to continue the mission and many of the projects of the Desert Protective Council, as it dissolves in 2017. We are saddened to see this great desert group, founded in 1954, leave the scene. DPC members voted to formally dissolve the organization into Basin and Range Watch, and we will work hard to continue the excellent educational programs and tradition of desert conservation of the Desert Protective Council. We will of course continue publication of El Paisano, the magazine of news and education in the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calendar of Comment Deadlines:

Stay tuned for how to comment to your Congress people on how to stop military expansions in Nevada, as well as save our public lands and environmental laws.

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"In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe."

--Edward Abbey, 1967, Desert Solitaire

 

"Polite conversationalists leave no mark, save the scar upon the earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground."

--David Brower

 

 

 

 

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Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Basin and Range Watch unless otherwise stated. Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.