Ivanpah Valley Conservation Proposal
A nomination to make 129,379 acres of the Ivanpah Valley an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) has been submitted to the BLM by Basin and Range Watch, Desert Tortoise Council and Desert Protective Council. This nomination is meant to be an alternative to the proposed First Solar Stateline and Silver State projects. The Ivanpah Valley contains outstanding examples of rare, diverse botanical and wildlife resources, contains archeological resources, and is culturally significant to Native Americans. It is located next to federally designated wilderness areas and the Mojave National Preserve, the third largest unit of the National Park system in the Continental United States.
The Ivanpah Valley has been identified as an area of excellent quality desert tortoise habitat with some of the highest tortoise population densities in the eastern Mojave Desert. The valley provides a north-south corridor that is crucial for genetic diversity in the Mojave desert tortoise populations. If all of the proposed solar projects are built the connectivity will be lost, isolating and destroying a genetically significant population of tortoises.
The ACEC would also protect habitat and migration corridors for Nelson bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and 18 birds listed by the California Department of Fish and Game as Species of Special Concern. Additionally, it would protect at least 36 special status plants, including Desert pincushion, Parish’s club-cholla, and Mojave milkweed.
New Nevada Legislation
SB 257 increases penalties for graffiti at “protected sites” on public and private property. This new law helps protect Nevada’s cultural resources on both public and private property with similar protections that federal laws afforded resources on lands under the federal government’s oversight.
AB 307 Allows Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) to recover costs incurred for the agency’s review of proposed energy projects’ impacts to wildlife and habitat. Developers proposing energy projects will pay a fee for the state agency’s review of environmental impacts. Prior to this legislation, NDOW was responsible for reviewing an ever-growing list of energy development permit applications at the expense of the agency’s general budget, whose budget is primarily derived from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and associated federal matching funds.
New California Legislation
SB108 allows certain mines to forgo reclamation plans. Under previous law, a surface mining operation was considered idle if it scaled back its activity for one year or more, by more than 90% of the operation’s previous maximum annual mineral production. The bill was designed to save jobs by allowing low-producing mines to stay active, rather than falling into idle status.
SB 267 modifies the existing requirements to prepare a water supply assessment for projects that meet certain size thresholds. Under the new law, a photovoltaic or wind energy generation facility that demands no more than 75 acre-feet of water per year is exempt from the water supply assessment requirements. By eliminating this aspect of project analysis, this law is expected to reduce the time and cost associated with permitting new photovoltaic and wind projects.
SB 618 includes two separate sets of amendments to the current law that are intended to facilitate renewable energy projects. First, the bill amends California Fish and Game Code provisions that relate to fully protected species. Prior to SB 618, the California Endangered Species Act prohibited harming or disturbing (“taking”) species that have been listed as fully protected. The new law allows for incidental take of fully protected species where a conservation plan has been approved and is being implemented to ensure protection of those species. This bill will impact the Golden eagle and California condor populations, as they will most certainly be impacted by wind development projects. The bill also creates a mechanism for Williamson Act contracts (agricultural preserve easements), to be converted to solar use easements where the Department of Conservation determines that the property lacks agricultural value due to soil conditions and other considerations.
AB 628 creates a 5-year pilot program in Inyo County that allows green-sticker (non-street legal) off-highway vehicles to travel up to 10 miles on county maintained roads. This legislation creates a system linking combined-use highways with off-highway motor vehicle trails and trailheads on BLM or Forest Service lands so that riders can access services and lodging facilities. The legislation restricts travel at night and requires all motorists using county roads to have a valid driver’s license, wear a helmet, and abide by a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit. The County of Inyo also agreed to indemnify the state against any claims resulting from this legislation.
BLM releases 15-year strategy to guide National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS)
The NLCS, created more than ten years ago and administered by the BLM, includes over 886 federally recognized areas and approximately 27 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert. Read more about this system and the BLM’s strategy in a 32-page document at: http://on.doi.gov/pttikY