Desert Tortoise, Dr. Michael Connor

The Ivanpah solar thermal project consists of 5.4 square miles of high quality habitat for the Endangered Species Act protected desert tortoise, a fact that developers (and some investors) underestimated resulting in the temporary suspension of activities on phases 2 and 3 of the project site due to construction activities exceeding the incidental take limit (number of tortoises allowed to be disturbed) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set at 38 Endangered Species Act protected desert tortoises.

The temporary suspension of activities prompted the Bureau of Land Management to take a closer look, and issue a Revised Biological Assessment   () estimating the number of desert tortoise the project may impact given what we now know.  As it turns out, the initial incidental take limit of 38 was off the mark to the tune of thousands of desert tortoises:

More than 3,000 desert tortoises would be disturbed by a solar project in northeast San Bernardino County and as many as 700 young ones would be killed during three years of building, says a federal assessment issued Tuesday.

BLM now anticipates the loss or significant degradation of 3,520 acres of tortoise habitat and the harm of 57-274 adult tortoises, 608 juveniles, and 236 eggs inside the work area, and 203 adult tortoises and 1,541 juvenile tortoises outside the work area.  BLM expects that most of the juvenile tortoises on the project will be killed.

Ultimately, BLM anticipates that the total number of tortoises that will be harassed or disturbed by construction of the Ivanpah Solar Thermal Plant to be 1,025 adult tortoises and 2,349 juveniles.

Had BLM, USFWS and developers underwent the appropriate and lawful environmental review this would have been anticipated.  Unfortunately, the  “fast-track” approval process insisted upon by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar missed it, and now the USFWS finds itself in a predicament.

Approve continuation of the project acknowledging the likely “take” of over 3,000 ESA protected desert tortoise ?  Or blemish the administration by shutting down one of the most fiercely promoted developments in the country ?

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Brian Ertz

Brian Ertz serves as Leader of the Sierra Club's National Grazing Team and as Conservation Chair of the Sawtooth Group, Sierra Club. All Posts by Brian Ertz | Facebook | Email

7 Responses to Ivanpah solar project would disturb thousands of desert tortoises

  1. avatar todd says:

    I am the only one who sees the logical fallacy here? Assuming (!) that the siting is representative of the tortoises critical habitat, then we should expect to find approximately 3,000 protected desert tortoise per 5.4 square miles. that is a lot of SDTs!

    If the 12-month finding by FWS on the SDT estimated numbers significantly lower than this (rather large number), then FWS will likely reconsider their finding.

    • avatar Brian Ertz says:

      the 3,000 number includes desert tortoise impacted by the project outside the project area. Those impacted by the project inside the project area are estimated to be fewer:

      BLM now anticipates the loss or significant degradation of 3,520 acres of tortoise habitat and the harm of 57-274 adult tortoises, 608 juveniles, and 236 eggs inside the work area, and 203 adult tortoises and 1,541 juvenile tortoises outside the work area. BLM expects that most of the juvenile tortoises on the project will be killed.

      • avatar Todd says:

        I read the assessment. I can also get a sense of the spatial scale of impact from the assessment’s figure 1. If the take is significant on this spatial scale then they either sited the plant on a SDT mecca or there are a lot more SDT then we estimated.

        We continue to urge rapid deployment of renewables, but sue when a project is fast tracked.

  2. avatar Daniel Berg says:

    I know plenty about estimates being off in a wide variety of different fields, but 38 as opposed to thousands?

    At what point does an estimate become so horrendously miscalculated that questions need to be asked about corruption, the ineptness of the professionals involved, or the overall integrity of the organization charged with creating the estimate?

  3. avatar MAD says:

    Any construction site or structure will have some level of negative impact on local wildlife – so the question really should be…how plastic is this particular tortoise’s behavior in relation to the specific habitat that the solar site will alter, and what is the proportion of this population of tortoises relative to the total population of this endangered species?

    Mitigation banking and Conservation banking programs that are allowed under the ESA (sections 7,9,10) have provided viable options for many species, so this should be explored for this species. Additionally, impacts from other activities may be more damaging than this particular solar facility. For example, people get crazy about the amount of avian wildlife (birds and bats) killed by wind farms and their structures, but feral cat and even pet cats that people let roam kill 10 times the amount than wind farms do in any given year, but heaven forbid we eradicate cats or have people control their pets.

    I’m not saying this solar facility should be green-lighted, just saying that there may be options available that allow this facility to be developed and still have the tortoise do okay.

  4. avatar celia says:

    Looks like this whole Invanpah project has been corrupte and Looks like Bright Source is running out of money and the past governor of California and Secretary of Interior should move the project to a better place–even they wanted a legency it should not be on undistrubed lands that effect endangered the Tortoise’s–they FAST TRACTED this project–shame on them. Don’t kill any more Tortoises!!!! This Bright Source project SHOULD STOP!!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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