If you were to ask me where I would spend a perfect day, I would immediately say the California desert. It wasn’t always that way. As a child, before I moved to California, the only perception I had of the desert was that it was sandy, windy and full of tumbleweeds blowing around. My idea of hiking and camping was somewhere in a forest, which is all I knew in the places I had previously lived. The trees were great, but the threat of mosquitoes and bears – not so much.

Once I moved to the Golden State, I fell in love with exploring the desert and sleeping under a brilliant display of stars, awed by the vast, open space where the quiet is broken only by the eerie hoot of an owl or the yips of coyotes answering each other across the canyons.

Silurian Valley, north of Baker, is especially near and dear to my heart. With its incredible vistas, brilliantly colored mountains and even nearby sand dunes thrown in for good measure, there is no place quite like it. It’s important to Native Americans, too, who still use some of the ancient trails that were created thousands of years ago.

Another example is the Amargosa River Basin, which runs east of Death Valley National Park through Tecopa and Shoshone. I always enjoy visiting China Ranch Date Farm where I hike along the Amargosa and then enjoy a refreshing date shake.

The Amargosa River Basin contains one of the two largest assemblages of endemic and rare species in North America. The critically endangered Amargosa vole also makes the marshes in this basin home.

That’s why I was pleased when, two years ago, after years of collaboration and cooperation with many interests and stakeholder groups, the Bureau of Land Management issued a historic and far-reaching decision that balanced conservation, recreation and renewable energy development across a sweeping area of the fragile California desert.

Carrizo Plain National Monument |
Photo: Matthew Sayles

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan permanently protected more than 4 million acres of some of the desert’s most ecologically and culturally important landscapes – both to offset the impacts of encouraging as much as 388,000 acres of energy development outside of this area, and to follow a directive from Congress to designate additional California lands to be included in a network of safeguarded “National Conservation Lands” in the region. Some of the places that the renewable energy plan included in that network were Mayan Peak, Afton Canyon, Amboy Crater, Silurian Valley, and the Amargosa River Basin.

This landmark plan involved more than 14,000 public comments, dozens of meetings, several drafts and the collaboration of many diverse interests including the state of California and the federal government. There was broad public support for the final plan, which struck a careful balance between lands available for large-scale renewable energy development, lands protected for their recreational importance, and lands managed for conservation of scientific, ecological and cultural values across millions of acres of the desert.

Despite this support, earlier this month the Department of Interior said it was going to reopen the plan (which was only finalized in September 2016) for revision, thus putting the important and much-needed protections at risk.

Karen Douglas, who sits on the California Energy Commission, recently told the Victorville Daily Press, “This is not needed. We have sufficient land designated in this plan to support meeting our renewable energy goals.”

So, once again, we will need to speak up for our desert treasure. Once again, we will need to remind federal decision-makers about the importance of preserving this incredible landscape for generations to come.

Californians have spoken, but DOI appears to be ignoring us. Perhaps we haven’t been loud enough or convincing enough. I’m especially offended by the hypocrisy of DOI: It claims to uphold the importance of local public input, but it apparently only listens when Utahans and others speak out against their BLM lands while ignoring Californians who have spent eight years crafting a plan that Californians want for their BLM lands.

We need to tell DOI not to waste our tax dollars on an unwanted and unneeded amendment to the plan and to leave the plan intact. The comment deadline is March 22, 2018.

Click here to comment. If you would like to attend a public meeting on this issue, the ones nearest to the Santa Clarita Valley are:

Ridgecrest – February 27, 2018, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Kerr-McGee Community Center, 100 W. California Ave.;

Bakersfield – March 6, 2018, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Bakersfield Field Office Auditorium, 3801 Pegasus Drive.

I want those who come after us to be able to explore and enjoy the stark beauty of this place with its painted mountains, hidden springs and brilliant spring wildflowers. I want visitors to experience the excitement of seeing a chuckwalla, kangaroo rat or threatened desert tortoise while they are exploring the desert. I want kids forever to be able to shine a UV flashlight on a scorpion and marvel that it glows, as I have. These are memories you carry with you for a lifetime.

We are fortunate to have this amazing landscape so close by. We can never take it for granted. It’s up to all of us to again raise our voices for the desert and urge the administration to keep the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan just as it is.

Linda Castro is a nature enthusiast and animal lover. She is the Assistant Policy Director for the California Wilderness Coalition and serves on the board of the SCV-based Community Hiking Club.  Her commentaries relate to California’s deserts.

Find the original article online at SCVnews.com.

Eight years of collaborative planning time, effort and expense are being swept aside by the recent decision of the U.S. Department of Interior to reopen the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). Broad and balanced stakeholder input and consensus are being disregarded in this ill-advised action. Direct effects on our Inyo County public lands are possible such as loss of land protections, public access and a predictable process for renewable energy development.

The DRECP effort sought to carefully craft land use planning in a landscape of chaos. Where should renewable energy be placed and where shouldn’t it through planned Development Focus Areas? What lands are important for public access? Which need protection as National Conservation Lands? After years of consensus building and extensive public vetting, these lands were designated and thought to be safely protected. Now we learn they are under threat. Furthermore, renewable energy developers no longer will have a predictable path for future projects.

The Trump Administration is no friend of renewable energy development. Wind and solar research and development funding has been cut. Fossil fuels, grazing, and mining dominate the administration’s public lands policy. Tariffs have been placed on imported solar panels. California, as a leader in renewable energy, will be hurt by amending DRECP. Its voice is not heard by the current Administration.

Here in Inyo County, the Board of Supervisors added a renewable energy amendment to their General Plan that reflected large public participation and opinions. Wind farm projects were opposed in the Highway 395 and Highway 190 corridors.

Industrial scale solar was opposed in iconic places like Centennial Flat, Conglomerate Mesa and Deep Springs Valley.

Inyo County Supervisors need to be thanked for their approval of the Renewable Energy Amendment to the General Plan. They supported, in general, the DRECP’s balance of conservation and development designations. Our Supervisors need to be asked to uphold their support for a plan for the desert that protects recreation and natural resources while allowing for appropriate siting of renewable energy.

From 5-7 pm on Monday, Feb 26th at the Film Museum in Lone Pine the BLM will host a public meeting to hear from you. You can also write to BLM at: BLM-California State Director, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825 or electronically to BLM_CA_DRECP@blm.gov.

The author, Michael Prather, is the Inyo County Water Commissioner.

Find the original article online at SierraWave.net.

One of the lessons I learned teaching peacekeeping in foreign lands is that dialogue is essential. Where there is negotiation and discussion, there is potential for diplomacy and problem-solving.

Here in our desert, I saw this same spirit of give-and-take materialize into a peaceful solution in the development of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

The DRECP is an innovative plan that carefully balances environmental conservation and renewable energy development, as well as recreational opportunities in this incredible landscape.

The plan took eight years of collaboration among multiple agencies, using public input and scientific studies to guide its development. I worked on this plan, and saw firsthand how it was carefully designed to meet a variety of needs through thoughtful deliberation and compromise. It ensures that the interests of energy developers, conservationists, and recreational enthusiasts are carefully delineated.

With the above in mind, it is disconcerting that the Department of the Interior has ordered a review of the plan. They have only provided 45 days for the public to submit comments, after which they may unravel the plan. Such action in that short a time could undermine the eight years of hard work and deliberation it took to build the plan, the local priorities it represents, and the will of Californians.

Changes to the plan would likely affect land use designations. That means that energy developers and environmental conservationists may have renewed disagreements over potential development sites. This could make it harder and more expensive for developers, and create uncertainty for development projects that are already in the works. It could put certain ecological areas at risk, and possibly destroy certain recreational opportunities in the desert. In other words, it is bad for developers, for conservationists, and for those who enjoy the outdoors — whether hiking and climbing, hunting, recreational vehicles, or otherwise.

The Department of the Interior said this review would help the Federal government find ways to remove “potential burdens on domestic renewable energy production in California.” But the irony is that the state of California supports DRECP. The plan provides more than enough acreage to meet California’s project energy needs through 2040 — a fact that was carefully studied at length for years as countless stakeholders built up this plan.

Periodic reviews of plans should be conducted, usually after 5 to 10 years or more, depending on the circumstances. The bottom line is that I see no substantive reason for this plan to be changed now, nor in the foreseeable future as current conditions exist.

Everyone who cares about public lands should be concerned by this disconcerting development. I encourage engaged citizens to submit comments during this public comment period, by writing to: BLM-California State Director, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825 or electronically to BLM_CA_DRECP@blm.gov.

If you love our desert, please join me and raise your voice during this public comment period. The DRECP should remain in its current configuration if we want to protect as well as responsibly develop these precious lands for future generations to enjoy and utilize.

Val Simon is an environmental professional living in the Morongo Basin. Before retiring from civil service, she was chief of the Resources Management office and Salton Sea Program Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region. She served in the Marine Corps reserve at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms while also an Environmental Protection Specialist, retiring from the Marine Corps after a combat tour in Iraq. She has taught peace-keeping operations in Mali, Senegal and Malawi, and anthropology at the Copper Mountain College as an adjunct professor.

Find the original article online at VVDailyPress.com.

(LA Times Editorial Board)
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February 7, 2018

The Interior Department gave final approval 17 months ago to a massive planning document that, among other things, designated nearly 400,000 acres of desert in Southern California for wind, solar and geothermal energy production. The plan capped eight years of work, nearly a dozen public meetings and consultations with a wide range of stakeholders to determine which parts of 10.8 million acres of federal land should be preserved for conservation, which for recreation, and which for development.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, as it was called, was far from perfect, but it was embraced as a workable, balanced compromise. Until last week, when the Trump administration announced that it was considering a do-over that could expand the area designated for energy production, mining, grazing and recreation (including all-terrain vehicles). What has changed in the desert since the original plan was approved? Nothing.

The administration cynically framed its motives for reopening the deal as pro-environment by suggesting that more land is needed for wind and solar farms if California is to meet its goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030. But apparently that’s not true. “This is not needed,” Karen Douglas, a member of the state energy commission, told The Times. “We have sufficient land designated in this plan to support meeting our renewable energy goals.” Ironically, reopening the process could slow down renewable energy development in the desert by injecting fresh uncertainty into the process.

Ultimately, this move has less to do with renewable energy development than with the Trump administration’s desire to significantly reduce the amount of land set aside for conservation, and to undo every vestige of the Obama legacy that it can get its oil-stained hands on. The administration has made no plausible argument that the desert plan is faulty or no longer suitable, other than the risible excuse about California’s energy plans and complaints by Riverside County and the city of Blythe that the plan might shift the burden for wind and solar farms from public land to private.

President Trump has said often that more energy of all types should be produced from federal lands, though his energy source of choice is usually fossil fuels. Although there is little gas or oil to be pumped in the desert — good news, otherwise he might turn the Mojave into west Texas — there are deposits of borax and other minerals that could be opened to mining if the plan is revised.

Of the 10.8 million acres at issue, the conservation plan set aside 3.9 million acres of land for some level of protection, including the Silurian Valley and the Chuckwalla Bench. Habitats were protected for a wide range of native plants and animals, including desert bighorn sheep and tortoises, pupfish and burrowing owls. It’s clear that the administration has a jaundiced view of environmental causes and protections, and that it has fallen in with Western Republican politicians who have been trying for years to wrest control of public lands from the federal government and convert it for local economic development. They argue that local political figures know best how to be stewards of local lands.

But that’s not a credible argument when their interest centers on drilling, mining and cutting roads in pursuit of a relative handful of jobs. In fact, developing public lands could cost jobs. One study of the impact of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah found that it gave rise to a tourism industry that helped fuel a 25% increase in local jobs and a 17% increase in per capita income. Notably, the Trump administration announced last year that it would reduce the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument by nearly half (at least five legal challenges have been filed to stop him).

This administration has pursued some of the worst environmental policies in modern memory. It has let enforcement slip, worked to undercut landmark laws to clean up air and water pollution, denied the science behind climate change in service of increased emissions of greenhouse gases, and sought to slash budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency and other offices charged with protecting the environment. This effort to undo the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is of a piece with all that. Californians need to stand firm against this ploy to remove hard-fought protections and to endanger some of the state’s defining landscapes.

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(SF Chronicle Editorial)
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February 3, 2018

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is a joint venture between California and the federal government to support renewable energy development while simultaneously protecting millions of acres of our state’s ecologically fragile desert.
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The plan, which covers 22.5 million acres in seven California counties, required years of scientific work and incorporated the feedback of everyone from local environmental groups to the U.S. military to Indian tribes.

Now the Trump administration has threatened to scrap the plan — for no good reason.

On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Land Management announced it is considering amending the conservation plan “to seek greater opportunities for renewable energy generation.”

In its notice, the bureau said it was specifically responding to President Trump’s order “to review regulations that unnecessarily impede energy development.” It’s opened a new 45-day public comment period on the plan (comments can be emailed to the bureau’s California director at blm_ca_drecp@blm.gov).

The bureau’s announcement was met with instant opposition all over the state.

“It’s a balanced plan that resulted from years of careful analysis and wide-ranging community engagement,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Scrapping the plan now is a complete waste of time and money, and I oppose this.”

Frazier Haney, director of land conservation for the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said in a statement that the bureau’s announcement “could create chaos,” and added that “Anyone who cares about public lands should be concerned about it.”

At best, the Trump administration’s decision is ill-conceived.

At worst, it’s an arrogant dismissal of the (many) institutions and individuals who poured their time, energy and effort into creating a balanced and sensible plan that offered opportunities for industry without damaging the environment that Californians love.

While there have been a few complaints about the burdens of the conservation plan, the vast majority of stakeholders have enthusiastically embraced it.
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Certainly the Trump administration can’t complain about the process for developing the plan — it was hailed, rightly, as a breakthrough for state and federal collaboration in land-use planning.

As for the potential of renewable energy development, the conservation plan designates 600 square miles of desert for it, with the possibility of 842,000 additional acres if necessary.

There’s little evidence that California needs to currently designate more public lands for this purpose, which has led to fears that the Trump administration is eager to open this fragile area to nonrenewable energy development, too. The best way to put these concerns to rest would be for the federal bureau to leave this hard-won conservation plan alone.

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(Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun)
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February 1, 2018

In an unexpected announcement with potentially dramatic consequences for the California desert, the Trump administration said Thursday it will reconsider an Obama-era conservation plan that blocks energy development across millions of acres stretching from the Mexican border to the Owens Valley and encourages solar and wind farms in more limited areas.

The sweeping land-use plan, which took eight years to complete, was hailed by conservationists as a historic victory for the desert’s fragile ecosystems, which are home to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, Joshua trees and other iconic, at-risk species. But the plan was criticized by renewable energy developers who said it was too restrictive and would hurt California’s efforts to build clean energy projects and fight climate change.

The Trump administration says it agrees with the energy companies.

“We need to reduce burdens on all domestic energy development, including solar, wind and other renewables,” said Katharine MacGregor, a deputy assistant secretary at the Interior Department, in a statement announcing the administration’s review of the California desert plan. “This process will help us find ways to make more federal land available for renewable energy projects.”

Renewable energy companies aren’t the only ones who might benefit. The Trump administration said its review could make it easier to build broadband internet infrastructure in rural communities. The administration is also asking for comments on ways to increase access to public lands for off-road vehicles, mining and grazing.

Thursday’s announcement from the federal Bureau of Land Management was jarring for the conservationists who spent years working with federal and state agencies to craft the plan, which covers 10 million acres of federal land across seven counties, including the vast open desert east of the Coachella Valley. The plan is supposed to protect the California desert, one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states, while encouraging developers to build solar and wind farms in the least sensitive areas.

Conservationists say the plan strikes the right balance between desert protection and renewable energy. And they’re not convinced that President Trump — who last week slapped taxes on imported solar panels, and who has sought to open protected lands to coal, oil and gas extraction — actually intends to support clean energy in California.

Laura Crane, director of the California Lands Network Program at the Nature Conservancy, said reopening the desert plan could actually hurt renewable energy development. In the past, conservationists and renewable energy companies have spent years fighting over where to build desert solar farms, with conservationists arguing that poorly sited projects could harm species and ecosystems. With the desert plan in place, Crane said, developers know where to build, helping avoid those drawn-out battles.

“By undoing a plan that used a ton of science and a ton of public input to identify places where there was a lot of agreement renewable energy could go, it creates confusion, a lot of uncertainty,” said Crane, who lives in the town of Joshua Tree, just north of the national park. “That could slow down California meeting its climate goals.”

Developers, though, say the situation on the ground is less rosy. The Desert Sun reported last year that in the eight months after the plan was finalized, just one solar company had filed paperwork expressing interest in building in a development zone.

Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-scale Solar Association, a California trade group, said the desert plan in its current form “all but forecloses new renewable energy.” Eddy said her group is “cautiously optimistic that reopening the (plan) could lead to the kind of renewable development originally envisioned when the process started.”

“Perhaps now we will have an opportunity to develop a plan that truly brings together conservation with viable renewable development where it’s most appropriate,” Eddy said in an email.

Officially, the Bureau of Land Management said it’s seeking comments to help determine the scope of its review of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. But Lisa Belenky, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said she’s worried the Trump administration is planning to “reopen the whole thing, and not have these conservation measures, and instead to go back to the free-for-all of off-road vehicles and mining.”

“We saw the (desert plan) as a really smart step forward to rational planning,” she said. “Instead, what we see now is throwing it open again to sprawl and piecemeal, leapfrog development across the landscape that will destroy these fragile desert habitats.”

The Trump administration’s review is also concerning to California officials, who played a major role in writing the desert plan but won’t have an official role in the review.

Karen Douglas, a member of the California Energy Commission, spent years working on the desert plan. She said some small changes might be reasonable, including tweaks to the dozens of conservation rules that riled the solar industry. Solar companies said those building requirements were onerous and would make construction too expensive.

But Douglas said a “tremendous amount of scientific work and data” went into the plan the first time. It would take a lot to convince her that broad changes are needed.

“The land-use designations and other aspects of the plan are based on very specific factual findings that are required by law and have been very thoroughly documented,” Douglas said. “Any wholesale reopening of the plan is not going to benefit anybody.”

The desert plan sets aside 6.5 million acres for conservation and 3.6 million acres for recreation, with some overlap. It also designates 388,000 acres for clean energy, mostly solar and wind projects. 148,000 of those acres are in eastern Riverside County.

In addition to designating land for solar and wind, the plan was supposed to streamline the permitting of renewable energy projects. Federal officials and conservation groups said it would do that, by creating certainty for developers. But industry critics disagreed.

The wind industry was even more frustrated than the solar industry, saying the plan would prevent development in most of California’s best remaining wind hotspots.

Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association, said she was “very pleased” by Thursday’s announcement from the Trump administration. In an email, she said the desert plan “flatly prohibited wind energy projects (though not oil and gas development or cattle grazing) across most of the vast desert region without ever specifically evaluating the potential impacts of those projects.”

“California will need access to the state’s best remaining wind energy resources in order to meet its ambitious climate change goals while contributing to the state’s economic development,” Rader said.

Trump’s Bureau of Land Management made a similar argument, noting that California law requires 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, part of the state’s efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. The federal agency also pointed to concerns from clean energy companies and local governments about the amount of land open to development.

“The Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the Blythe Council said the regulatory burdens created by the (desert plan) would make projects too costly to build, put undue pressure on private lands, and inhibit economic growth and job creation,” the agency in a statement.

Douglas, from the California Energy Commission, rejected the idea that California hasn’t made enough land available for solar and wind farms. She said the state is way ahead of its interim target of 33 percent renewable energy 2020, and that electric utilities have already signed many of the contracts they need to hit 50 percent by 2030.

Crane pointed to a Nature Conservancy analysis finding that California could meet its 50 percent clean energy target while avoiding ecologically important areas, like those protected in the desert plan. She said the organization is interested in analyzing higher clean energy targets, in light of a proposal in the state Legislature for California to get 100 percent of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2045.

“If there are tweaks that need to be made so development can go to the (energy) zones easily, we should make those tweaks,” Crane said. “But calling into question the science that shows where there’s likely to be environmental constraints — that could cause tremendous risk for the developers and those entities that are buying the electricity. That doesn’t help anyone. And it doesn’t help us meet our climate goals quickly.”

The Bureau of Land Management opened a 45-day public comment period on Friday. Comments can be emailed to BLM_CA_DRECP@blm.gov, or sent by mail to the BLM-California State Director, 2800 Cottage Way, Rm W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825. The agency also plans to hold public meetings, dates and times to be announced.For the iconic desert tortoise, today probably seems the same as yesterday. In the cool of the morning, tortoises emerge from their underground burrows, slowly venturing out into the desert in search of food. They are particularly fond of the fruit of the prickly pear. As the day heats up, they return to their burrows to wait out the hot sun.

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(Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife)

September 14,2016

The first phase of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan protects millions of acres of California desert while directing renewable energy projects away from sensitive wildlife habitat.

For the iconic desert tortoise, today probably seems the same as yesterday. In the cool of the morning, tortoises emerge from their underground burrows, slowly venturing out into the desert in search of food. They are particularly fond of the fruit of the prickly pear. As the day heats up, they return to their burrows to wait out the hot sun.

But today is no ordinary day in the California desert. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel just finalized the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), protecting millions of acres of public lands in the California desert, and the wildlife that call them home. This plan identifies lands that are suitable for renewable energy development, away from public lands that are valuable to wildlife, and protects an area that encompasses the largest intact desert landscape in the United States.

Due to the spread of a respiratory disease and an extreme loss of habitat due to development, off-highway vehicles and grazing, desert tortoises are barely surviving. As healthy habitat is lost, and climate change alters the environment they have been so long adapted to, these and other animals struggle to find food, water, and shelter. But now these ancient desert denizens and other wildlife will have protections necessary to adapt to a changing climate. Today represents a turning point in conservation in the California desert.

Ivanpah project, ©Krista Schlyer

It Was a Tough Start

Eight years ago, battles in this area over where to develop massive renewable energy projects raged on. Some energy companies chose to place their enormous industrial scale projects on valuable wildlife habitat, threatening the survival of some of the most iconic desert species.

Knowing there was a way to plan for renewable energy while still protecting the most important parts of the desert, we urged these companies, the conservation community, the federal government and the state of California to work together on developing renewable energy projects that would avoid harm to wildlife and their habitat.

A Victory for All in the End

Before this plan was put into place, there were 3.25 million acres of permanently protected lands within the area of the California desert covered by the DRECP. This sounds like a lot, but compared against what wildlife need to survive into the future, it wasn’t enough. The DRECP adds millions more acres of conservation lands, including the Silurian Valley and Chuckwalla Bench as National Conservation Lands, and the Pisgah Valley as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. All told, the DRECP protects and conserves more land than the entire state of Massachusetts.

Desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, golden eagles, desert kit foxes, a myriad of lizards, snakes and other reptiles as well as unique desert plants like the eerily recognizable Joshua tree benefit from this conservation plan. Large portions of their habitats are now protected from industrial scale development, degradation from poorly maintained roads, and other uses. Protecting this land also helps fight climate change. Native plants that sequester carbon dioxide are left to continue to grow, and absorb and store this greenhouse gas. Recent scientific studies show that disturbing California desert soil can release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So simply protecting so much of this ecologically valuable land will also help California to meet important carbon emission reduction goals.

desert tortoise, ©Nate Rathbun

Looking to the Future

The DRECP isn’t the end of this effort. This plan creates a roadmap for California and the federal government to meet ambitious clean energy goals. Just as it protects valuable habitat from energy development, it also identifies less valuable lands (old landfills or agricultural land, for instance) where renewable energy can be developed without severely impacting imperiled wildlife. A full 600 square miles of such land have been identified under the plan as Development Focus Areas for wind, solar and geothermal energy projects.

This plan also represents a new paradigm for wildlife conservation – one that starts with identifying the most important wildlife habitat to be conserved so species can survive into the future, even in the face of climate change and increased renewable energy development. It also incorporates robust public input – throughout the entire process, the DRECP received more than 14,000 public comments. We know that some of those comments came from supporters like you – thank you!

Desert sunset, ©Krista Schlyer

Interior Secretary Jewell’s signature completes the public lands portion of the DRECP, but this planning effort is far from over. There are several million acres of private lands in the California desert that are currently undergoing this “smart from the start” planning at the county level. The ultimate goal will be to knit together plans on private lands with the public land DRECP to create a framework of protected public and private lands. With that framework in place, wildlife conservation will stretch the full 22 million acres of California’s desert lands, while also identifying additional lower value lands for renewable energy development.

Tomorrow, the sun will rise again over the California desert, and desert tortoise and other wildlife will emerge into the cool morning to begin again their search for food before the sun becomes too strong. Their day-to-day hasn’t changed, but their futures will be a little brighter, thanks to the nearly 10 years of work Defenders and other conservation groups put in to make the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan a reality.

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September 14,2016

The Wilderness Society welcomes the finalization of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). This landmark collaborative effort by stakeholders and state and federal agencies, marks a major step forward in meeting California’s ambitious renewable energy goals and addressing climate change, while also protecting critical wildlife habitat, historic and natural resources on our shared public lands.

The DRECP will help streamline the permitting process and provide certainty for clean energy development, while guiding utility-scale projects to the most appropriate locations and conserving valuable and vulnerable wild places in the California desert.

The following statement is from Dan Smuts, Senior Regional Director, Pacific Region for The Wilderness Society:

“This plan is a thoughtful and balanced blueprint for the future of the California desert. It provides a model for the entire nation by addressing the urgent need for clean energy while protecting important lands for wildlife and plants.”

The California desert offers some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, but it is also home to historic trails, ancient Native American petroglyphs, and remarkable wildlife like bighorn sheep and desert tortoise. It’s a region of spectacular vistas and exceptional recreational opportunities. The finalization of phase one of the DRECP demonstrates to the entire nation that through intelligent planning, we can provide renewable energy solutions and protect our cherished wild lands.”

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(Helen O’Shea and Ralph Cavanagh, NRDC)

September 14,2016

Climate change is happening now and the stakes couldn’t be higher. NASA declared July 2016 the hottest month on record globally, and Californians are living the very real impacts of climate change as we enter our fifth year of an historic drought and wildfires burn from Big Sur to Mendocino. California has long been a pioneer in fighting climate change, and it made its leadership known again earlier this month by passing two bills setting the most ambitious carbon pollution reduction goals on the continent. As my colleague Alex Jackson so aptly put it, “The world is watching and California is stepping up.”

The State’s ambitious climate change goals as spelled out in the new legislation will require significant development of solar and wind in the biologically rich California desert.  Fortunately California has long been a leader in conserving lands and wildlife as well as fighting climate change. In recognition of the importance of both conservation and climate change the State today partnered with the Department of the Interior to finalize the long-awaited Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and California Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas marked the signing of the Record of Decision for the landmark 10 million acre plan this morning in Palm Springs.

The DRECP is the result of 8 years of extensive state-federal partnership and stakeholder engagement—the final plan is the result of dozens of public meetings, the assessment of hundreds of datasets, and tens of thousands of public comments. The years of collaborative work on this landmark plan have paid off. The Department of Interior and their partners at the state of California should be congratulated for proving through the DRECP that conservation, clean energy and climate leadership can go hand in hand.

The DRECP is the most ambitious and innovative planning effort undertaken in the California desert and it strikes the right balance between the protection of critical desert resources and the responsible development of much-needed renewable energy—not an easy feat by any measure. The plan does this by embracing key principles of smart from the start planning that NRDC and other advocates have promoted for years:

  • Assessing development at a landscape scale, rather than allowing site by site project decisions to be decided by a first come, first serve basis
  • Guiding development to lower conflicts areas more appropriate for large scale development
  • Deciding what lands should be off limits to development, by conserving lands that are ecologically important
  • Requiring developers to meet a more strategic set of mitigation requirements, rather than allowing an ad hoc process that does not achieve meaningful conservation

Conservation

The final DRECP builds on California’s remarkable desert conservation legacy by permanently protecting some of the Mojave’s most special places, including the spectacular Silurian Valley, which lies in between Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve; the biologically rich and diverse Chuckwalla Bench in Riverside County; the biologically rich Pisgah Valley which is critically important to both the iconic desert tortoise and bighorn sheep; and the wonderfully unique Amargosa watershed which is home to endemic species found nowhere else on the planet.

The DRECP also includes important clarification around some of the desert’s most important conservation resources. The plan clarifies that BLM lands added to the special National Conservation Lands System—a system set up specifically to recognize and protect BLM lands with nationally significant resources—are protected forever; that means they cannot be taken out of conservation by future land management plans.

Clean Energy

The DRECP sets aside 388,888 acres (more than 600 square miles) of lower conflict land in Development Focus Areas or DFAs, where resource conflicts will be fewer and therefore development timelines will be shorter, mitigation obligations lower and project costs lower. The DFAs created through this plan include lands around the Salton Sea where renewable energy development has the potential to not only generate clean energy but also be part of a comprehensive solution to some of the Salton Sea’s ongoing environmental challenges. In addition, the plan identifies another 40,000 acres of Variance Lands where development is possible, but not streamlined.

The DRECP and Climate Leadership

As we move forward with pursuing our climate goals as aggressively as we can, it’s important to use all the tools at our disposal—the DRECP is a critical piece of a comprehensive plan to fight climate change that includes energy efficiency, conservation, distributed generation, and modernizing our electric grid to handle more renewables from both sides of the meter.

The passage of SB 350 in California, and more recently SB 32 and AB 197, and the federal Clean Power Plan are expected to drive a new round of utility scale renewable energy development across the west, so having plans in place to direct that development towards low conflict areas is particularly critical right now. The BLM component of the DRECP provides the cornerstone public lands element, and the next step is for the BLM and state agencies to work closely with the desert counties on Phase II of the DRECP to plan for renewable energy and conservation on private lands as well.

What’s Next?

Phase II of the DRECP—the private lands piece involving the 7 counties within the DRECP planning area—Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego—will help align federal, state and local renewable energy development and conservation plans, policies and goals. To date, with funding support from the California Energy Commission, three counties have already identified 326,750 acres for renewable energy development on non-federal lands. Finalizing the private lands piece of the DRECP is essential to realizing the comprehensive, desert-wide vision originally articulated for the DRECP back in 2008 and for protecting California’s unique conservation legacy and clean energy future.

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(Carolyn Lockhead, San Francisco Chronicle)

September 14,2016

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave final approval in Palm Springs on Wednesday for a sweeping renewable energy development plan within nearly 11 million acres of public lands in California’s Mojave Desert, one of the largest intact ecosystems in the continental United States.

Jewell described the California desert as the “epicenter” of President Obama’s goal to produce 20,000 megawatts of solar and wind power on public lands as a key element of his agenda to fight climate change, which she called “the most pressing issue of our time.”

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a joint effort between California and the federal government, sets aside more than 600 square miles of land for renewable energy development, with streamlined permitting for giant solar and wind plants, mainly in Riverside and Imperial counties. Another 625 square miles are available for potential development under stricter rules. More than 6,500 square miles are set aside for conservation, meaning industrial development is ruled out.

The solar and wind industries have criticized the plan as all but unworkable, as did off-road-vehicle recreationists.

The desert plan has taken nearly the entire eight years of Obama’s presidency to complete, complicated by the need to reconcile two inherently conflicting goals: putting big solar and wind farms on public land to fight climate change, while at the same time conserving the fragile desert ecosystem, which scientists say is a large natural carbon sink.

Plant biologist James Andre, director of UC Riverside’s Granite Mountains Desert Research Center in the Mojave National Preserve, dismissed environmentalists who back the plan that treats public land ecosystems “as commodities for industrial purposes.”

Large environmental groups that support the administration on climate change hailed the plan as a way to save the Mojave from an onslaught of renewable-energy development while still using the desert to meet greenhouse gas targets.

The plan also got a strong endorsement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who has built her legacy on desert conservation.

With Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton promising to increase by tenfold the amount of renewable energy on public lands, supporters said that restricting that development to less intact areas of the desert will help preserve the rest.

“We will be entering the next push for projects in a much more organized way than we were before,” said Kim Delfino, California director for Defenders of Wildlife, which supports the plan. “Eight years ago, it was a free-for-all out there. Now developers are being told these are the more degraded places to go.”

Karen Douglas, a commissioner on the California Energy Commission and a key architect of the plan, said this week that meeting California’s ambitious climate goals will require industrial-scale solar of the kind that can be put in the desert.

She said that the state is also looking at other areas for industrial solar such as degraded farmland in the San Joaquin Valley but that the desert remains “a really important part of our portfolio” to meet climate targets.

The planning effort grew out of mistakes made early in Obama’s first term, when billions of dollars in subsidies led to a solar and wind land rush in the Mojave and siting decisions that now are widely viewed as irreversible mistakes. The most prominent of these is at Ivanpah (San Bernardino County). Built on 6 square miles of endangered desert tortoise habitat with more than $2 billion in federal subsidies, the massive solar complex is still wrestling with thousands of fatalities of birds and bats zapped each year by its concentrated solar beams.

Delfino said the plan will stop the threat of industrialization of miles of pristine desert in places such as the stunning Silurian Valley at the gateway to Death Valley National Park.

But Randy Banis, who represented off-road vehicle users on the plan’s advisory committee, said the initiative drastically reduces “recreational opportunities for the more than 5 million visitors” a year who use desert lands that are all but inaccessible without a vehicle.

Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-Scale Solar Association, said the plan is a big disappointment. She called the plan “out of step with climate goals … a Model T in a Tesla world.”

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