Nature Conservancy Deems Some Mojave Desert Regions Suitable for Construction

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The Nature Conservancy proposes the construction of large renewable energy plants in California's less environmentally important portions of the Mojave Desert, the San Diego Reader reports.

What does the Nature Conservancy's proposal entail?

Published via the PLoS One site, the group's proposal calls for a trade-off between "converting to a green energy economy and conserving biodiversity" via the identification of land in the Mojave Desert that is considered to be of lower conservation value.

Are there currently renewable energy plants in the works on Mojave Desert land?

The group points out that currently there are multiple applications for land use benefiting solar energy plants. These applications would affect 220,000 hectares (ha) of desert landscape, 130,000 of which are situated in intact habitats. If the proposals were approved, the endangered desert tortoise would lose 103,509 ha of available habitat.

How does the Nature Conservancy intend to maintain the desert habitats but still build renewable power plants?

The group identified areas of the Mojave Desert it deems to have a lower conservation value than the currently endangered habitats. Approximately 190,928 ha of land with a below 1 percent slope could house renewable energy plants that would supply 180 percent of the state's pre-defined green energy requirements. Lands with higher slopes would yield additional energy-generation opportunities. The group's map specifically targets privately owned land around the cities of Barstow, Lancaster, Palmdale, Ridgecrest, Victorville, Twentynine Palms and Palm Springs. These areas offer potential properties for the development of large-scale alternative energy plants. Asserting that the conversion of currently non-protected lands -- frequently privately owned or federally appointed for multi use -- to energy-generating parcels would destroy intact habitats, the Nature Conservancy calls for the creation of "policies that incentivize development on degraded private lands," which prevents the construction on privately owned land where there are intact habitats.

Who owns or manages the land in the Mojave Desert?

The California Department of Fish and Game identifies that 20 million acres of the 32 million acres comprising the Mojave Desert are situated in the State of California. Eighty percent of the desert's California portion is subject to federal management by a wide array of agencies. These agencies include the Bureau of Land Management (41 percent), the National Park Service (26 percent) and the Department of Defense (13 percent). Approximately 18 percent of the land is privately owned or held by municipalities.

How does land management adversely factor into the allocation of desert habitat for the construction of alternative energy plants?

The Nature Conservancy cites a mix of regulatory complexities, political pressure, economic pressure and target land parcel ownership as instrumental in poor decision-making.

What do critics of the plan say?

KCET finds that the designation of some desert habitat as less valuable is a misnomer. Pointing to the dry lakes, which appear barren most of the year, these areas become habitats for various species during the winter rains. Urging Americans to think of the desert as being a valuable portion of the country's landscape, KCET refers to the land as "fragile, diverse, valuable and irreplaceable."

Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles-area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.

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