Ivanpah Solar Thermal Threatens Thousands of Desert Tortoise

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In January Western Watersheds Project filed suit in federal court to halt construction of the Ivanpah solar power plant project being built on public lands in the Mojave Desert. The project site consists of 5.4 square miles of high quality habitat for the Endangered Species Act protected desert tortoise. WWP California Director Dr. Michael Connor has maintained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied upon the project proponent's self-serving science that woefully underestimated the number of desert tortoise that would be impacted by the development.

WWP Complaint

The Thirty-ninth Desert Tortoise

Unfortunately, Dr. Connor was correct and in no small part thanks to WWP's effort on April 15 the Bureau of Land Management issued a Decision for Immediate Temporary Suspension of Activities temporarily halting activities on phases 2 and 3 of the Ivanpah solar power plant after construction activities exceeded incidental take limit of 38 desert tortoises established for the development. Biologists on the plant site had handled their 39th desert tortoise but had only searched the initial phases of the project.

Decision: Immediate Temporary Suspension

Following the temporary suspension of activities, the BLM released its biological assessment that will provide the basis for the USFWS to develop a new biological opinion as to whether or not the project will procede. The BLM's new assessment is astounding. 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.

Revised Biological Opinion

BLM also anticipates that the total number of tortoises that will be harassed or disturbed to be 1,025 adult tortoises and 2,349 juveniles.

Before the Bureau of Land Management approved this project, Western Watersheds Project made repeated requests to the agency to fully analyze the impacts of the proposed power plant on the site's desert tortoise population, but with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's emphasis on fast-track approval of industrial solar plants on public lands and the developer's need to meet the deadline for a $1.4 billion handout, a full environmental review never happened.

The next step in this litigation may be the filing of a Motion for Preliminary Injunction to block all work at the Ivanpah project. WWP hopes that will not be necessary.

Western Watersheds Project extends our thanks to our excellent legal counsel in this case attorney Steve Volker of Oakland, California.

Thank you Steve !