Pahrump Valley, Nevada

Desert Tortoises and Mojave Yuccas Threatened by Utility-scale Solar: Yellow Pine Solar Project

^Female Desert tortoise dining on spring greens in the Mojave Desert of Nevada.

July 8, 2016 -- South of Pahrump, NV -- Laura Cunningham and Kevin Emmerich -- On June 26 NextEra filed an application with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada for a new 250 megawatt photovoltaic project proposed for Mojave Desert ecosystems with old growth yucca stands in Pahrump Valley along the Tecopa Road and close to the historic Old Spanish Trail.

But conflicts exist with land management here. This area was created to move tortoises out of harms way and to release tortoises that have been picked up or once have been pets. The Las Vegas, Nevada Desert Tortoise Conservation Center was closed in 2014 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service due to budget cuts. So these tortoises are tested for disease and released in the Pahrump Valley on two "translocation areas", Trout Canyon and Stump Springs designated last year. Now (July, 2016) the Bureau of Land Management will consider approving the Yellow Pine Solar Project on about 3,000 acres of this translocation site.

^Yellow Pine Solar Project proposal map, overlapping important tortoise translocation and connectivity habitat, and old growth Mojave yuccas.

This project would be built on a recently approved desert tortoise translocation area. When the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC) in Clark County, Nevada, was closed down a place was needed to translocate all of those soon to be homeless tortoises. Now all the translocated tortoises would be moved again and disturbed further if this project were approved. There was an Environmental Assessment by the Bureau of Land Management on this translocation from the Las Vegas area DTCC, to Pahrump Valley, and a Stump Springs Translocation Plan. This should be a solar-free zone to keep this important tortoise habitat intact.

^Translocation map for desert tortoises moved from the Desert Tortoise Translocation Center, showing overlap with Yellow Pine Solar Project proposed map (top of page above). Will tortoises have to be moved again? From the Stump Springs Translocation Plan.

In the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement this area was called Variance Avoidance land, which needed full environmental review. But this Yellow Pine Solar Project was grandfathered in as it was bought from an older previous project applicant (Boulevard Associates).

The proposed project site is less than a quarter mile from one of the tallest Mojave yuccas (Yucca schidigera) yet found. The project site itself contains numerous Mojave yuccas and Joshua trees, as well as healthy undisturbed Mojave Desert scrub.

Numerous large washes cut through the proposed project site, which could impact photovoltaic panels if flash floods come off the tall Spring Range.

The Yellow Pine Solar Project would be a single-axis tracking solar photovoltaic project built by NextEra on pristine desert on up to 3,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Nevada near the Old Spanish Trail Road right next to the Old Spanish Trail and the Stump Spring Area of Critical Environmental Concern. This is the first notice with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. This is very old-growth Mojave Desert with ancient creosote rings, desert tortoise and very tall Mojave yuccas. It is close to the old Hidden Hills Solar Project which was recently defeated. Solar panels should go on rooftops, or the many hundreds of acres of old degraded agricultural land within Pahrump that are right now unused. More information here:

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^US Fish and Wildlife Service map showing connectivity habitat for allowing the continuance of genetic flow through the desert. Ivanpah Valley has already been critically blocked with utility-scale solar projects, will Pahrump and Sandy valley be next?

^Very tall Mojave yucca near the project site, in old growth desert.

^Tall yucca, with the Kingston Range in the background.

^This Mojave yucca is 15-20 feet tall.

^Laura standing next to the very tall Mojave yucca. This area needs to be conserved as a no-development zone because of the old growth desert here and good tortoise habitat.

^Thick moss growing on shadier north-facing edges of large wash banks.

^Large wash with three-foot tall banks draining across the alluvial fan from the Spring Range. Several such large washes cut through the proposed project site.

^Tall Mojave yucca looking eastwards toward the Spring Range.

^Beautiful Joshua tree woodland in this same area.

^The tall Mojave yucca in the background among similar-sized Joshua trees. The Kingston Range is in the background.

^Near the proposed project site, looking eastward towards to Spring Range, in the Stump Springs Desert Tortoise Translocation area.


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