Federal grab in Nevada aids solar projects, ensnares rancher

Mojave Solar Project

Photo of Mojave Solar Project: Fish and Wildlife Service

Cliven Bundy and his family are currently in a dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management about grazing rights on land the federal government decided to either acquire or manage.

Bundy allegedly didn’t have proper permitting for his cattle; he was first ordered to stop letting them graze in 1998 according to various media.

The federal land grab in Nevada has enabled massive solar projects  that have a significant environmental impact while ensnaring the rancher.

Bundy has fought the feds over rights his family has held for more than a century, long before BLM was around. What drew so much attention to desert land in Southern Nevada?

Major solar projects are one reason the federales have taken so much interest in this vast expanse of land. The banner cause for environmentalists, however, is the Desert Tortoise.

Desert Tortoise

Photo of Desert Tortoise: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Some media claim grazing must be prohibited in order to protect this tortoise. However, media also have falsely claimed this tortoise is endangered. It isn’t—its status is “threatened.”

A research paper posted at the BLM website contains information suggesting the tortoise is nowhere close to extinction, and grazing may have little to do with harming the species even if it is considered threatened:

  • The BLM research noted the tortoise is “widely distributed throughout major portions of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Sonora, and Sinaloa.” Only the Mojave population is considered threatened.
  • Tortoises are preyed upon by ravens. The BLM said there are 13 county-run-solid-waste landfills and “an unknown number of unauthorized dumpsites” in the West Mojave. One landfill is a vast banquet table for ravens. The birds have a special fondness for hatchlings.
  • Fire, human activities like off-roading vehicles, and disease also impact this tortoise. Because the tortoises were often collected as pets prior to their threatened designation in 1989 (California) and 1990 (federal) , some pets were re-released into the wild. It’s possible the released pets introduced diseases into wild tortoise populations.
  • There are five military bases located within the Western Mojave Planning Area. Field maneuvers can trample or blow up tortoises or their burrows.

The BLM report admits when it comes to “natural causes of mortality…their extents are difficult to evaluate and vary from location to location.” It’s hard to even determine populations because it’s not feasible to count tortoises whose home range varies from “10-450 acres.” The “threatened” status is based on statistical projections.

Solar projects in the desert, however, potentially have the greatest impact on habitat for all plants and animals simply because of the vast amounts of land required and practices necessary for construction and operation.

The Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office summed up the impact of energy development projects:

“Conflicts between energy development projects, which can range size in the thousands of acres, and the desert tortoise have been recognized at least since 1986. Desert tortoises may be killed during exploration, construction and ongoing operations, and maintenance activities associated with energy facilities and transmission corridors. Project sites are typically contoured and fenced, resulting in direct mortality and habitat loss. Ground-disturbing activities that may cause negative impacts to the desert tortoise can increase soil erosion, increase establishment of invasive plant species, reduce cryptobiotic soil crusts (biological crusts composed of living bacteria, algae, fungi, lichens, and/or mosses that stabilize the soil), and alter drainage patterns that impact plant communities downstream from the project footprint.”

The administration of President Barack Obama has funneled large sums of taxpayer money and political support to solar projects although these projects, like any energy producing source, have an environmental impact.

If you study a map of numerous solar projects planned for Southern Nevada, it’s obvious there is potential for sizable impact, far greater than a few hundred head of cattle.

Nevada Gov. Bryan Sandoval weighed in on Bundy’s civil rights after learning federal officers had set aside a “First Amendment area” for protesters sympathetic to Bundy to use. Doing such a thing is illegal and unconstitutional and Sandoval properly characterized the federal overreach as an “atmosphere of intimidation.”

The federal land grab in the state of Nevada is breathtaking. KLAS TV in Las Vegas said, “Of the more than 70 million acres of land in Nevada, 83 percent is federally owned.”

A Fish and Wildlife Service report gave an idea of the vast land interests the feds acquired in the West Mojave alone:

“The West Mojave Plan includes the West Mojave Desert area encompassing 9.3 million acres in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties: 3.3 million acres of public lands administered by BLM, 3.0 million acres of private lands, 102,000 acres administered by the State of California, and the balance of military lands administered by the Department of Defense.”

The Obama administration has approved at least 50 renewable energy projects on public lands since 2009. These projects, like any energy project, leave a major environmental footprint that often has nothing to do with carbon emissions.

At least one powerful union group has taken an interest in the tortoise. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, mostly government workers, sued the National Park Service in 2010 for failing to protect the Desert Tortoise from hunting.

(Analysis by Kay B. Day/April 10, 2014)

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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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One Response to Federal grab in Nevada aids solar projects, ensnares rancher

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