Comment Letter to BLM

May 29th, 2010

To: Gregory Helseth
Las Vegas Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
4701 North Torrey Pines Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89130–2301

Dear Greg,

We would like to submit the following comments for the Nextlight Renewable Power, LLC: Silver State Solar Project, Environmental Impact Statement.

Basin and Range Watch is a group of volunteers who live in the deserts of Nevada and California, working to stop the destruction of our desert homeland. Industrial renewable energy companies are seeking to develop millions of acres of unspoiled habitat in our region. Our goal is to identify the problems of energy sprawl and find solutions that will preserve our natural ecosystems and open spaces.


The preferred project site contains up to 4,000 acres of undeveloped land. The Right of Way is substantially larger. Will it expand? Will it be 8,000 acres eventually?

Please clarify which technology option would be used, including photovoltaic panel and foundation. Clarify where desert vegetation would be graded/scraped, cut/mowed, or left in a natural state. Even clipping creosote bushes once will leave a danger of the shrubs stump-sprouting and shading the panels. Cutting vegetation will reduce the carbon-storing ability of the desert ecosystem, as well as disturbing the habitat for plants and wildlife. List any herbicides that will be used to keep weeds under control, and practices to prevent chemicals from entering the groundwater or leaving the site. Various digital images of the solar arrays seem to indicate vegetation will be left between the panels, such as on page 2-10 of the DEIS. Please indicate whether this is an accurate depiction.

^Copper Mountain thin-film photovoltaic plant in the desert of the Boulder City "Green Zone," Nevada.


Deadline for these Comments: The deadline for these comments ends on Memorial Day of 2010. The Memorial Day Weekend will not see as many comments as usual. The entire comment period is far too rushed. The DEIS admits that most of the biological surveys have not even been completed yet. BLM’s attempts to rush approval of this project have compromised the quality of the DEIS. This comment deadline should be extended by two months.

Fast Tracking Deadlines: Due to the alarming lack of information provided in the DIES concerning desert tortoise, all biological resources, cultural resources, visual resources, reliability of the project, and storm water drainage, we believe it is unwise for the BLM to be using “fast tracking” seemingly to expedite approval of this project. We feel that it there are enough outstanding unresolved issues that make approval and construction of facilities by the end of 2010 a very unrealistic goal. We would like to request that this project be removed from the fast track list in order to provide us with more time to examine the issues. We think it is a more realistic goal for the EIS process to be extended into the year 2012, so more comprehensive biological and cultural site surveys can be conducted. Fast tracking has also created an atmosphere of distrust between agencies and the general public.


The DEIS should present the environmental impacts of the proposal and the alternatives in comparative form, thus sharply defining the issues and providing a clear basis for choice among options by the decision maker and the public. In this section agencies shall:

(a) Rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives, and for alternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated.

(b) Devote substantial treatment to each alternative considered in detail including the proposed action so that reviewers may evaluate their comparative merits.

(c) Include reasonable alternatives not within the jurisdiction of the lead agency.

(d) Include the alternative of no action.

(e) Identify the agency's preferred alternative or alternatives, if one or more exists, in the draft statement and identify such alternative in the final statement unless another law prohibits the expression of such a preference.

(f) Include appropriate mitigation measures not already included in the proposed action or alternatives.

The adopted 1998 Las Vegas Resource Management Plan does not include renewable energy development of geothermal, wind, and solar power; management of site type rights-of-way for renewable energy and other uses; visual resources management; land tenure adjustments to meet community growth needs; evaluation of existing and potential new Areas of Critical Environmental Concern; Off-Highway Vehicle Designation and Special Recreation Management Areas.

There is no off-site alternative in the DEIS. The BLM has informed us that they were going to cancel most of the applications by the company, Cogentrix. Many of these applications are in the region adjacent to the Nextlight proposed project. Please list these regions as proposed alternatives and fully evaluate the environmental impacts of these alternatives.

Many alternatives are rejected due to the longer distance from transmission lines. We would like to remind the BLM that the best interest of the wildlife and ecosystems do not reflect the need of the applicant to be close to a transmission line. To simply eliminate an alternative because it would cost the applicant too much money indicates a bias from the BLM to meet only the needs of the applicant. As public land owners, we are not concerned about the needs of the applicant. Please do not eliminate alternatives based on the convenience of the applicant.

We would like to request an alternative that designates the region an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and eliminates it from futures concern of any development in the future.

More CO2 emissions would be released from construction and transport activities beyond the site: cement manufacture, labor travel to and from the work site, shipping, train, and truck transport of materials like heliostats from distant places such as Europe. No life cycle calculations were included in the project analysis. Any question of the benefits of a project toward reducing the effects of climate change must consider these construction impacts to the climate over the several years of building.
Distributed generation in the built environment should be given much more full analysis, as it is a completely viable alternative. Silver State will need just as much dispatchable baseload behind it, and also does not have storage. But environmental costs are negligible with distributed generation, compared with the Silver State project. Distributed generation cannot be “done overnight,” but neither can large transmission lines across hundreds of miles from remote central station plants to load centers. Most importantly, distributed generation will not reduce the natural carbon-storing ability of healthy desert ecosystems, will not disturb biological soil crusts, and will not degrade and fragment habitats of protected, sensitive, and rare species.

Alternatives should be looked at that are in load centers, not closest to the project site. There is a need to consider the “macro” picture, the entire state, to look at maximum efficiency.
A Master comprehensive plan should exist before large expensive inefficient solar plants are sited and built out in the wildlands. This plan should carefully analyze the recreational and biodiversity resources of the Nevada desert. A list of assumptions should be included detailing the plan for integrating various fuels mixes and technologies into each utility's plan, an overall state plan, and a national plan. Loads should be carefully analyzed to determine whether additional capacity is needed for peaking, intermediate, or baseload purposes. Unit size, which impacts capital and operating costs and unit capacity factors, has a direct bearing on the relative economics of one technology over another. A plan might recommend that smaller units built in cities and spaced in time offer a less risky solution than one large unit built immediately.
Right now there is no utility plan, no state plan, and no national plan. Large-scale central station solar plants have been sited very far from load centers out in remote deserts, with the only criterion being nearness to existing transmission lines and natural gas lines. Very little thought has been given to the richness of biological resources, the cumulative impacts on visual scenery to tourists, the proximity to ratepayers, or the level of disturbance of the site.
The California Energy Commission says there will be a need to build many new efficient natural gas peaker or baseload plants to back up the renewables planned, and this will undoubtedly be the case in Nevada as well. Instead, the renewables should be distributed generation in load centers, which will provide much more efficiency, rather than inefficient remote central station plants that reduce biodiversity and require expensive transmission lines. This reduces the risk, as distributed generation is a known technology and has been proven in countries like Germany where incentive programs have been tested. Incentive programs can be designed in an intelligent manner to vastly increase distributed generation.  Incentives for large remote projects like Silver State are unproven to lower risk and may actually raise debt levels with runaway costs associated with poor siting and higher-than-anticipated operating and maintenance costs.

Purpose and Need

There is very little logic found in the purpose and need for the project as well as the best possible management options for public lands. Many renewable project developers have failed to consider reasonable or viable alternatives that could serve as solutions that everybody could live with. In the case of this particular project, conflicts with endangered species, cultural resources, storm water drainage erosion, viewscapes from National Parks and wilderness areas could all be avoided with a distributed generation alternative. Thin film photovoltaic can be sited on developed areas using rooftops, parking lots and other urban vacant lots. The beauty of this is that there is essentially the same insolation in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada as there is in the region of the project site. The following photograph of Las Vegas from an airplane shows the endless opportunity to utilize the countless rooftops for renewable resources in the community of Las Vegas.

^Las Vegas, Nevada: Endless opportunity for photovoltaic development. More megawatts could be produced from this resources than the undisturbed lands of the proposed Nextlight project.

For the Bureau of Land Management in the year 2010 to even consider taking an action that could result in the death of so many desert tortoise, reaches a new level of irresponsibility. The desert tortoise has been listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. If you ask any of the desert tortoise experts how the efforts made to protect the species have succeeded, they will all give you a negative answer. The desert tortoise is not doing well. Sound management of public lands requires reasonable management decisions. Part of BLM’s mission is to preserve habitat for sensitive species. The whole idea of clean energy is to be “green”. Because renewable energy has a lower output compared to less clean fossil fuel sources, it needs a large footprint. In order to maintain the “green” quality of renewable energy, it is important to site these projects properly in areas that are previously disturbed. In the year 2010, if there is a healthy, disease free population of desert tortoise, you do not develop it. You preserve it. We should not have to tell this to the BLM.

Visual Resources

The DEIS fails to adequately analyze the full impacts that this project would have on the region’s visual resources. The Visual Resources section should be rewritten.

The short term construction would not only create a visual contrast from soil disturbance, but erosion from the removal of soils would compromise the visual quality of the area by allowing dust to be stirred up whenever there are wind events. The short term construction would most likely result in long term visual disturbance due to the permanent removal of desert soils.

The Key Observation Point (KOP) simulations are deceiving because they are poor quality photographs, and the angle and location of the photos were not selected from the most potentially graphic locations and angles.

KOP number 1- View from Goodsprings road is a faded photograph and would be sufficient if there were three other simulations from the region. These other simulations should be sharper images with views from some closer distances to the project site.

KOP number 2-View from I-15 near Jean is also a faded photograph that only shows a late afternoon view of the project. There should be a KOP of this view during the morning hours and at least two other KOP simulations from a closer distance to the project site from I-15.

KOP number 4- View from Desert Oasis Apartment complex is from a low angle. An additional KOP is needed from this point that is above the large concrete wall barrier. This KOP only shows a low angle view.

KOP number 5-View from Primm Valley Resort and Casino is good, but there need to be at least three more due to the high visitation to this resort.

KOP number 9-View from the Entrance to the Mojave National Preserve only represents a very small percentage of the visual impacts that would occur from the park. There will need to be several other KOP simulations from the preserve including three from the Ivanpah Road.

Night time lighting and disturbance: The DEIS fails to even address the visual impacts that would occur from security lighting and maintenance lighting. Most desert solar energy facilities usually wash their panels or mirror at night time. How much lighting would be required for this?

How much lighting would be required for security? How bright would the lighting be? How visible would the lighting be from the Mojave National Preserve, the McCullough Mountains Wilderness Area and the Stateline Wilderness? How visible would lighting be from Primm, Nevada? Many tourists who visit the Mojave National Preserve stay at the Primm resort. Visual resources are important to these visitors. Would light be shielded to minimize glare? Are there OSHA requirements that do not allow shielding? Some solar applicants are now providing night time Key Observation Point simulations for their proposed project. We would like the applicant for this project to be required to do the same. Please provide 6 night time Key Observation Point simulations from adjacent wilderness, parks and resorts with an analysis of the projects impacts to wilderness values and star gazing.

BLM’s conclusions on all of the KOP simulations are the same: “Proposed project would attract attention, but would not dominate the view of the casual observer.” By putting this statement at the conclusion of every KOP, it seems obvious that BLM did not take the time to analyze the impacts to each one individually. For example, what makes BLM think every observer is casual? The values of the visitor to Mojave National Preserve may to differ from the values of the driver who is just traveling from Las Vegas to southern California. A much more detailed analysis is needed on the impacts to visual resources.

The region is being defined under VRM Class III visual objectives, determined from to be outdated by the BLM Las Vegas Resource Management Plan. There have been wilderness areas and National Park Service areas designated sine than. This designation should not be made until the plan is updated.

We would like to request that the BLM require the applicant to create the following additional Key Observation Point simulations:

- At least 5 more from the Mojave National Preserve including emphasis on the Ivanpah road that crosses the New York Mountains.

- At least three from the McCullough Mountains Wilderness area

- One from the Stateline Wilderness Area

- Three more from the Primm Resort

- Two from Nipton

- Three more from Interstate 15

- Six dark sky KOP simulations from different elevations

Access and Recreation

Access and Recreation: The project area is located mostly on public lands. The proposed tidal wave of renewable projects in the region contradicts the multiple use mission of the BLM. The BLM should not designate so many thousands of acres to just energy use and transmission lines.

Carbon Cycle

Greenhouse gases: The applicant’s Plan of Development has indicated an need for transmission line upgrades and new transmission facilities. The green house gas called Sulfur Hexaflouride (SF6) is used primarily in electricity transmission - and is emitted in especially large amounts in construction of new lines – and is 24,000 times as potent as CO2 in it’s global warming impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency has declared “that the electric power industry uses roughly 80% of all SF6 produced worldwide“. Ideally, none of this gas would be emitted into the atmosphere. In reality significant leaks occur from aging equipment, and gas losses occur during equipment maintenance and servicing. With a global warming potential 23,900 times greater than CO2 and an atmospheric life of 3,200, one pound of SF6 has the same global warming impact of 11 tons of CO2. In 2002, U.S. SF6 emissions from the electric power industry were estimated to be 14.9 Tg CO2 Eq. (

Please provide a detailed analysis of the amount of SF6 gases that would be released by this project.

Carbon sink: Scientific studies have revealed that desert ecosystems and minerals have the ability to store C02 gases (Have Desert Researchers Discovered a Hidden Loop in the Carbon Cycle? Richard Stone: Science 13 June 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5882, pp. 1409 - 1410 DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5882.1409).

How much C02 storage capability would be replaced by development? If the goal is indeed to reduce greenhouse gases, is it wise to remove this much carbon storing living crust? Please provide a detailed analysis on the amount of GHG that would otherwise be offset by an intact arid ecosystem.


Weed Removal and Control: What herbicides would be used to remove vegetation from under the solar panels? How will these toxins be prevented from getting into the ground and ground water ? What effects, short term and long term would the use of these chemicals have on public health? Will local land owners be at risk? How will these herbicides effect sensitive wildlife and plants? Hundreds of miles of small roads will be constructed. That has the potential to create a serious weed problem in the area. Herbicide Use Proposals and Weed Management Plans need to be developed now.

Vegetation Removal: How will vegetation be removed? Will it be bladed by large scrapers? How will vegetation be kept off of the site? Will any vegetation be left growing near the panels?

Water and Soils

Water: Exactly how much water will be needed to build this project? Please give an accurate number of acre feet. Where will this water come from? Will the use of all this water draw down the aquifer? How much water will be needed to wash off the panels. Solar developers consistently tell inaccurate accounts on the amount of washing that will be necessary. Blowing dust requires the concentrated thermal unit at Kramer Junction to wash their mirrors every week. Please list the amount of acre-feet for panel washing. Will water softeners be used to prevent spotting? What chemicals are in the softeners? Will they be hazardous to public health and wildlife? Will they compact soils? Would Off Highway Vehicle Use create more dust thus creating a need for more panel washing water?

Storm Water Drainage: Berms will be subject to erosion from floods. Will soil cement be used to stabilize berms? How does the applicant propose to maintain the project if flood channels jump their banks and cross over to new channels on the alluvial fan? We have seen this occur over time in the desert. The majority of flow could change course and move down a new part of the fan, damaging panels and facilities. Where will rock be mined on site for berm reinforcement, and how many acres of surface disturbance will be involved?

The applicant should develop a detailed erosion and sedimentation control plan, and a flood risk control plan now for public review. Proposed project sites are often located on an alluvial fan that acts as an "active stormwater conveyance" between mountains and valleys. Widespread bajada flooding events and sheetwash deposition occurs. The consequences of allowing flooding through the project would be too great. Looking at the quiet desert landscape it can be easy to underestimate the violence of a summer thunderstorm or El Nino winter flood. We have witnessed storm cells in Death Valley cause huge flash floods that have moved car-sized boulders down mountain canyons and destroy small buildings. The 2004 flood in Furnace Creek Wash dug out a new channel, took out the highway, and unfortunately caused the deaths of a few tourists who attempted to drive through the water loaded with moving boulders. Even floods that do not move large debris can damage structures over time with the slow build-up of land, gravel, stones, and logs, against fences, bending them down. Recent paleoclimatological studies measuring high stands of lakes in desert playas and flows in desert rivers, such as the Verde in Arizona, have shown that the "statistics if extreme flows derived from twentieth century records are not representative of all hundred-year episodes of the past 1,400 years,...information of value for engineering applications as well as ecological understanding" (Redmond, Kelly T. 2009. Historic climate variability in the Mojave Desert. In, The Mojave Desert: Ecosystem Processes and Sustainability. Edited by Robert H. Webb, Lynn F. Fenstermaker, Jill S. Heaton, Debra L. Hughson, Eric V. McDonald, and David M. Miller. University of Nevada Press: Reno and Las Vegas.).

This is critical: in our lifetimes we may not have even seen the largest flood events that could occur in the desert. Historical records of rain in Ivanpah Valley cannot be used as predictors of future weather.

Projects should have plans for public review that address flood concerns Including the potential high costs of repairing and maintaining facilities.

Thin Film Solar and Cadmium: There are several references that have raised issues of concern with cadmium telluride primarily due to the risk of broken equipment releasing this heavy metal:

Our concern is that nobody has really attempted to think about this. If the panels do degrade or erode from potential damage such as storm water flooding or sand abrasion over the next decade, will cadmium be released and if so, how would that effect public health, water quality and wildlife resources? We would like to request that the issue be fully examined in the final EIS.

Cultural Resources

The DEIS fails to adequately describe the cultural resources on the site. What will happen to artifacts? Will they be destroyed during construction? Geoglyphs, old trails, other features, and artifacts should be avoided, and not collected or destroyed by grading for renewable energy projects. Areas with important cultural values should be avoided.

Just because large numbers of lithics have not been found on the fan does not mean it is not a significant cultural area, as people may have used it commonly to hunt lizards and rabbits, collect Lycium berries, which grow commonly on many project sites, and other uses which do not preserve well in the archaeological record.

Native American Tribal Concerns: What are the concerns of local tribes? We would like a detailed description of all local Native American Tribal concerns about renewable energy projects. An open line of communication will have to be maintained with the tribes who hold a special interest on this land.

Biological Resources

Surveys for burrowing owl, birds, golden eagle (including helicopter surveys for nests in a 10 mile radius), and bighorn sheep should be undertaken before construction begins. Mitigation for any rare or sensitive species cannot be done without adequate baseline information.

Closure and decommissioning activities absolutely need to include regrading of original contours and revegetation of disturbed areas with native plants. A Site Rehabilitation Plan needs to be developed now for public review.

A detailed translocation plans should be available well before clearance activities begin, including locations of recipient and control sites.

Before construction can begin, Jurisdictional Determination of waters in the project site, and any permits, should be obtained from US Army Corps of Engineers.

Rare Plants: Fall surveys should be carried out in for summer-rain germinating species, and thus several plant types may have been missed or under-represented in spring surveys.

There are no known techniques to mitigate for the loss of rare plants and their habitat in desert environments. Avoidance is the only mitigation that is appropriate for most sites. There is no known method to compensate for the loss of rare plant habitat. Simple habitat acquisition for the desert tortoise cannot provide adequate compensation for the loss of this high quality rare plant habitat. To be able to find comparable compensation habitat for the rare plants will require an enormous amount of fieldwork to survey private lands that might be occupied. Simple translocation of the adult plants does not perpetuate population structures for long-term productivity and is an unproven mitigation for habitat destruction. The scale of destruction of subsurface ecosystem components and seed banks is impossible to mitigate.

If projects are approved, a land compensation ratio should be at least 5:1, especially in light of the massive push for energy development in the desert and the projected cumulative effect generated from similar projects.  

We oppose transplantation. Even if avoidance for any rare plants could be achieved, this plan still allows the habitat of these species to be carved up and fragmented, creating islands of habitat isolated from other populations and potentially even pollinators due to the heat created by the project's sun-reflecting and concentrating design. This does not provide adequate minimization to the severe impacts to these populations.
Rare Plant Communities: Rare plant communities should be considered.
In A Manual of California Vegetation, second edition, by John O. Sawyer, Todd Keeler-Wolf, and Julie M. Evens, 2008, California Native Plant Society and California Department of Fish and Game, the authors say that for the Larrea tridentata-Ambrosia dumosa Shrubland Alliance (Creosote bush-white burr sage scrub): "The presence of several non-native plants, particularly Brassica tournefortii, Bromus spp., and Schismus spp., has greatly increased fire frequencies and led to the degradation and destruction of many hectares of this alliance. Long-term, intensive grazing, OHV activity, mining, and military operations have also left their mark.... We need to identify, monitor, and manage areas free of these degrading influences" (page 568).

Many project sites are just such a large intact area of creosote-bursage scrub that are relatively free of weeds, have only light (and easily reversible) grazing, almost no off-roading except on designated tracks, and no other development disturbance. We recommend these areas be preserved and protected.

In addition, the authors state that such associations with Pleuraphis rigida (Big galleta grass), and "those with a diverse shrub layer are G1 S1" (page 566). The G1 S1 (Global 1 State 1) status rank means the plant community is rare and has "fewer than 6 viable occurrences worldwide/statewide, and/or up to 518 hectares" (page 45). The NextLight Silver State sites plant community has galleta grass and a diverse shrub layer and is worthy of more studies to determine its status.

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii): As the BLM is very aware, the proposed project site lies on some of the highest quality desert tortoise habitat left in the range of the Federally Threatened Mojave Population. The project site is within four miles of designated Critical Habitat for the species and was at one point proposed to be included in the Piute-El Dorado Desert Wildlife Management Area (DWMA) /Critical Habitat. The CHM2Hill biological survey report states that there may be up to 50 desert tortoise per square mile. The population estimates are based on “old calibration values for over 1000 transects conducted by Stephen Boland and Mercy Vaughn throughout the west and east Mojave Desert between 1990 through the present.”

These estimates are only based on presence/absence surveys and are possible underestimates.

We would like to see another population estimate. Was the population estimate used to make this report the standard protocol required by the Fish and Wildlife Service? There was very little detail about this and other concerns covered in the Sundance Biological Survey report. We would like to see more information from Sundance Biological Consulting including all field data survey sheets.

The Sundance Biological Survey Report describes the tortoise population of the site as “moderate density habitat” instead of high density yet admits that all surveys were only presence/absence surveys. How can the biologists come to this conclusion when they admit they did not conduct all of the full protocol level surveys? The 1994 US Fish and Wildlife Service Desert Tortoise (Mojave Population) Recovery Plan states that a suitable population for a Desert Tortoise Recover Unit of Desert Wildlife Management Area would be a minimum of ten adult desert tortoise per square mile. The population on the proposed project site has up to five times the density of the minimum requirements according to the applicant’s biologist.

The DEIS does not give evidence of survey methods that would estimate density values. Only presence-absence surveys were undertaken in the on the proposed Silver State Solar Project in Ivanpah Valley, Clark County, Nevada, October 2009 CH2M Hill report. Until line-distance sampling or mark-recapture surveys are done on site, no estimates of population density should be made. This habitat could have more than the estimates in the CH2M Hill report, done using a method developed by Sundance Biology that is based on old calibration transects. Due to changing conditions of the environment and range-wide tortoise declines, calibration transects should be current. We believe that more surveys will need to be conducted to get a more accurate estimate of population density, such as mark-recapture or line-distance sampling. We would like to request surveys be conducted yearly to the fall of 2012.
The biological report also states: “The proposed Silver State Solar Project would have both direct and indirect impacts on desert tortoises on the site and tortoises in the area. Since tortoises use the site, indirect impacts would occur through loss of habitat. Direct impacts could occur during construction if a tortoise wanders onto the site and is either injured or killed.”

The proposed site lies within the Northeastern Recovery Unit for the Desert Tortoise. This population is genetically unique and qualifies as an Evolutionary Significant Unit. Recent genetic studies by Murphy et al.,2007 have concluded that tortoise populations from the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit are unique. The proposed ISEGS project would be constructed within the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit, one of six designated evolutionarily significant units within the range of the Desert tortoise. This population is genetically the most distinctive unit of the desert tortoise in the Mojave Desert. When the 1994 recovery plan was issued, some of the highest known tortoise densities were in southern Ivanpah Valley, with 200 to 250 adults per square mile (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1994, Desert Tortoise {Mojave Population} Recovery Plan. Portland Oregon). We believe that the project, combined with future proposed projects, would also significantly affect a genetically distinct subpopulation of desert tortoise within the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit that occurs in the Ivanpah Valley. Eastern Ivanpah Valley should be protected and included in a Desert tortoise Recovery Area, specifically the high-quality habitat where the NextLight Silver State South and North are proposed. This may have some of the highest densities in the Mojave Desert, based on our preliminary surveys, with healthy populations isolated from disturbance and fragmentation. This area should be included in the Piute-Eldorado ACEC and managed for tortoise recovery, not developed as a solar energy zone. The Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit, one of six designated evolutionarily significant units within the range of the Desert tortoise. When the 1994 recovery plan was issued, some of the highest known tortoise densities were in southern Ivanpah Valley, with 200 to 250 adults per square mile (US Fish and Wildlife Service 1994, Desert Tortoise {Mojave Population} Recovery Plan. Portland Oregon). Densities for the northern Ivanpah Valley in the 1990s were typically less than 50 adults per square mile (ibid.). Ivanpah Valley area is considered excellent quality tortoise habitat with some of the highest population densities in the East Mojave.

Translocation plan: In a recent conversation with the Las Vegas District BLM biologist, It has come to our attention that the plan is to move or “translocate” over 200 (possibly more due to the difficulty of evaluating juvenile populations) desert tortoise to a site 25 miles to the south in the vicinity of the Walking Box Ranch. This has changed from the first plan to translocate them all to an area by highway 93 north of Searchlight. From the information we were able to get, it appears that the translocation site may be as much as 800 feet higher in elevation. We were also told that this site is not even been fully evaluated and it is not known if it would be suitable as a translocation site. It would appear that BLM and the applicant are having considerable trouble locating a suitable site to move 200 Federally Threatened desert tortoise to.

Translocation is more experimental than a proven method and often has disastrous results. In 1997, the Clark County Large Scale Translocation Site was established along the bajada almost directly across the Interstate from the proposed project site. It was very difficult to get an exact number of how many desert tortoise were moved to this site. We do know it was in the thousands. We also know that the people in charge who worked for the county were involved in controversy for exceeding the allowed limit of translocated animals. All one has to do now is walk up any of the canyons that are directly above the translocation site and one will find that there are countless carcasses of desert tortoise that did not survive this experiment.

^Tortoise carcass, Bird Springs Range, Clark County, Nevada, 2008.

In 2008, over 70 percent of translocated desert tortoise died from drought and predation as a result of the disastrous Ft. Irwin Desert Tortoise Translocation Project. The first phase of the translocation was begun in March 2008, when about 770 tortoises were moved from Fort Irwin to areas south of the installation that already had desert tortoise populations. Almost immediately, coyotes began killing both relocated and resident desert tortoises. This resulted in an effort to exterminate natural predators from the ecosystem in an attempt to make the project more successful.

Dr. Kristin Berry, of US Geological Survey-Biological Resources Division, said Fort Irwin expansion translocations resulted in a large mortality. Spring 2008 translocation at her plots of 158 tortoises resulted in 65 known still alive as of April 2010. Coyotes and ravens were a problem predating tortoises on both recipient sites and control sites, as well as on nearby study areas. Two tortoises were run over on roads. Berry concluded translocation is a very risky endeavor (California Energy Commission workshop May 3, 2010, for Ridgecrest Solar power Project).

Desert Tortoise are long lived, slow adapting animals. They do not adapt to change very well. Translocation was not meant to be used on such a wholesale scale. It was developed as a mitigation measure for much smaller development project. At a recent workshop held in Ridgecrest, California concerning a proposed solar energy project of a different design which also has a significant desert tortoise population, there was a very long debate on translocation. Solar Millennium, the project applicant, has hired Dr. Alice Karl to oversee the tortoise surveys and relocation of desert tortoise. Dr. Karl has been hired to oversee many translocation projects. She stated that even under the best conditions using the most qualified biologists, some tortoises will die when they are translocated.

Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA requires federal agencies to "insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the adverse modification of habitat of such species . . . determined . . . to be critical . . .." 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(a). To accomplish this goal, agencies must consult with the FWS whenever their actions "may affect" a listed species. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(a). Section 7 consultation is required for "any action [that] may affect listed species or critical habitat."

50 C.F.R. § 402.14. Agency "action" is defined in the ESA’s implementing regulations to "mean all activities or programs of any kind authorized, funded, or carried out, in whole or in part, by Federal agencies in the United States…." 50 C.F.R. § 402.02.
We would like to see the translocation plan, and we would specifically like to review the monitoring plans for the tortoises that will be moved.

Health status: What is the health status of this population? Were any symptoms of Upper Respiratory Tract Disease detected? If so, was this just a visual survey?

Cutaneous dyskeratosis is a shell disease that has unknown implications on desert tortoise populations. In advanced cases, exposed areas become infected with bacteria, fungus, and exposed tissue and bone may become necrotic. Cutaneous dyskeratosis was initially identified on the Chuckwalla Bench Desert Wildlife Management Area, Riverside County, California, USA. Hypotheses for the cause of the disease include auto-immune diseases, exposure to toxic chemicals (possibly from mines, or air pollution), or a deficiency disease (possibly resulting from tortoises consuming low-quality invasive plant species instead of high-nutrient native plants). We are concerned that destructive events such as flash flooding will release cadmium telluride into the ecosystem, thus having the potential to intensify this problem. We would like to request a study on the impacts of heavy metals and other toxins potentially released by the proposed project would have on desert tortoise populations relating to the disease cutaneous dyskeratosis. The project applicant proposes to use thousands of thin film panels which contain the heavy metal cadmium telluride for this project. There is absolutely no information on the durability of panels, what would happen if flood or seismic events break panels and cadmium is released into the ecosystem. Would there be impacts to desert tortoise from exposure to this heavy metal?

Re-routing Off Highway Vehicle Trails: Although not explained in the DEIS, BLM employees told us at a public meeting the an Off Highway Vehicle trail will be re-routed to an area north and east of the project. Is this true? If so, why is it not in the DEIS? Re-routing this trail would move a well used route into a sensitive desert tortoise area. Why would BLM approve this Right of Way for a large multi-thousand acre energy development in prime desert tortoise habitat and than re-route a trail for vehicles in the remaining habitat that is not developed? This would encourage OHV trespass in washes and new areas that were previously undisturbed. OHV use also encourages the spread of invasive weeds into desert tortoise habitat. The proposed site is now surprisingly weed free. Why did BLM not come up with a mitigation proposal that eliminates all OHV’s from the area surrounding the project site?

Connectivity: How would the cumulative impacts from this project effect the overall connectivity of the Northeast Mojave Recovery Unit? If the entire Ivanpah Valley is developed for renewable energy projects, will there be any connectivity available for this population? The Sundance Biological Report states that a radio transmittered tortoise from another area and past study was found on the project site. That would be direct evidence of connectivity. How will this be mitigated? We would like to remind BLM that protection of the tortoise does extend outside of just critical habitat or DWMA’s. Many proposed project sites are located in topographically favorable regions with excellent habitat. These regions are important to maintain as undeveloped because they provides connectivity between and within recovery units of the desert tortoise.

Mitigation: What mitigation measures will be taken? BLM requires a one to one mitigation. We request that the applicant be required to buy a 5 to one amount of acreage of tortoise habitat as in the project site. This habitat should be in the same genetic recovery area as the project site. For example, it would not be appropriate to purchase land in a different Recovery Unit to offset this project. Mitigation land should also include connectivity corridors between recovery units as is the proposed project site.

Mitigation land for desert tortoise should not overlap with different species of rare plants, burrowing owls and other sensitive species. Other species often have different ecological requirements so it is important not to undermine their needs by lumping all species needs to one category.

 This information should be provided by applicants:

 1. Copies of all desert tortoise pre-project survey data sheets.
 2. Resumes of surveyors.
 3. Indicate the personnel that had a minimum of 60 days prior field experience searching for desert tortoises and tortoise sign.
 4. For surveyors without 60 days prior field experience, provide a discussion of how surveyors were trained and any measures that were taken to ensure they obtained accurate survey results.
 5. Dates and times of tortoise surveys. If surveys were not conducted during appropriate seasons (April through May and September through October) as determined by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) April 2009 Pre-Project Field Survey Protocol (, please explain the reasons. Was approval granted for any survey work conducted outside the spring and fall seasons by USFWS?
 6. If surveys were conducted outside recommended USFWS protocol seasons, discuss how survey numbers would be as accurate as those obtained during optimal activity seasons.
 7. Provide temperature data collected during surveys. Were surveys conducted when air temperatures were above 40 degrees Celsius?
 8. Indicate whether any desert tortoises were handled during Project surveys. If tortoises were handled, please provide documentation of the section 10(a)(1)(A) permit(s) issued by the USFWS authorizing handling.
 9. Discuss how tortoise abundance estimates may be skewed by rainfall estimates that are not on site.

Protection Status: Unless the No Action alternative is taken and cumulative degradation and fragmentation of habitat is avoided, we are concerned that the desert tortoise in the northeastern Evolutionarily Significant Unit will be upgraded from Federally Threatened to Federally Endangered.

We sent the below letter to both the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service last August 2009 (We received no response):

Roy C. Averill-Murray
Desert Tortoise Recovery Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Desert Tortoise Recovery Office
1340 Financial Blvd, #234
Reno, NV 89502

Ron Wenker
Nevada State Director
Bureau of Land Management
Nevada State Office
P.O. Box 12000 (1340 Financial Blvd.)
Reno, NV 89520-0006

Las Vegas Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
Attn: Gregory Helseth
4701 North Torrey Pines Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89130–2301

Ron Wenker, Nevada State BLM Director -
Gregory Helseth, BLM Las Vegas office -
Bob Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -

To Whom It May Concern,

We are very concerned with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) plan to consider approval of the proposed NextLight Renewable Power, LLC, Silver State North Solar Project and Silver State South Solar Project, located near Primm, Nevada (Federal Register Notice LLNVS0100.L51010000.ER0000.LVRWF09F8770; NVN-085077 and NVN-085801; 09-08807; TAS: 14X5017)
Nextlight proposes to blade, level and clear 4,640 acres of some of the most high quality desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) habitat in the Mojave Desert.

The sign of tortoises is abundant on the proposal site: many active desert tortoise burrows, pallets, carcasses, tracks, and fresh scats. The amount of tortoise sign visible from just a reconnaissance walk is enough for us to raise serious concern about how this project could significantly impact an otherwise robust population.

The habitat is characterized by a large bajada draining the Lucy Grey Mountains to the east with an approximate elevation between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. The soil is eroded granite making a suitable substrate to support a robust population of desert tortoise and other fossorial fauna.

The plant community consists primarily of:

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata)
Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa)
Rhatany (Krameria sp.)
Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera)
Big galleta grass (Pleuraphis rigida)
Woolly plantain (Plantago ovata)
Silver cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)
Catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii)

The proposed project site is located within Northeastern Recovery Unit first outlined in the 1994 Desert Tortoise (Mojave Population) Recovery Plan. The site was also once in the proposal for the Piute-Eldorado Desert Wildlife Management Area (DWMA). The site appears to be in very good shape for recovery. There is very little sign of off highway vehicle use and minimal sign of invasive species. This site could qualify for a DWMA. The 1994 Recovery Plan states that “Large blocks of habitat, containing large populations of the target species, are superior to small blocks of habitat containing small populations.” Our observations of the site indicate that it would meet these criteria.

We are concerned with the recent push by the Department of the Interior to develop so much public lands for large scale renewable energy projects. The Nextlight South is only half of their proposed project. This combined with the many thousands of acres being pursued for development by several other companies could very well lead to the extinction of significant tortoise populations. Development of just one of these projects would be so large that it could cut off the connectivity that many wildlife species require to maintain their genetic diversity.

We do not believe that it is possible to mitigate the destruction that the development of this parcel of 4,640 acres of land would cause. Where would you possibly translocate all of those tortoises? How could you find a piece of suitable land with a carrying capacity large enough to accommodate all of these animals? We also do not believe it is possible to even find all the tortoises on the site. It is very large and the topography is very complex. Desert tortoise translocation was never intended to be used as a replacement for habitat. It was intended to mitigate smaller development projects. Cumulative impacts from the many other proposed large energy projects should also be taken into consideration. If this project and projects like it are approved in the future in high quality desert tortoise habitat, we believe the desert tortoise will end up being upgraded from Threatened to Endangered.

We would like to suggest that this site be removed from consideration for large scale energy developments. We feel the Bureau of Land Management should be looking for alternatives in brown fields near urban developments and should be advocating photovoltaic systems on roof tops over the destruction of so much biological diversity on such large tracts of land. We would also like to suggest that the area slated for the Nextlight development be considered for conservation status such as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. We also feel a very extensive survey of the site is in order and believe it should be evaluated by biologists other than those who have been hired by Nextlight.

Thank you for considering our comments.


Basin and Range Watch

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia): All burrowing owls should be passively removed and not actively removed or excavated from the burrow (Passive meaning wait for the owl to come out). Avoidance of owls and restructuring of the project site may be necessary. California Department of Fish and Game protocols (Burrowing Owl Survey Protocol and Mitigation Guidelines. 1993. Prepared by the California Burrowing Owl Consortium., accessed November 10, 2009) will need to be implemented. The guidelines recommend that for off-site mitigation, replacement of occupied habitat with 9.75 acres of occupied habitat per pair or single owl found, or 13 acres of contiguous habitat per pair or single bird, or 19.5 acres of unoccupied habitat per pair or single bird.

Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni): There is a potential that bighorn sheep will use fan and valley sites proposed for solar developments for winter foraging. How would development of alluvial fan impact potential desert bighorn winter forage habitat? Bighorn will often cross alluvial fans and desert floors. How would construction of such large facilities impact connectivity of bighorn sheep populations and migration corridors?

How will construction activities and noise affect sheep near project areas?
Alternatives to avoid impacts and measures to minimize impacts should be included. For example, we do not believe building an artificial guzzler would mitigate for the potential loss of springs on mountain slopes and bajadas due to groundwater pumping.
A pre-construction baseline of bighorn sheep use should be established, followed by intensive monitoring during construction and follow-up post construction. Please analyze potential affects to Bighorn sheep springs.

Living Soil Crusts: Biological soil crusts are formed by living organisms and their by-products, creating a surface crust of soil particles bound together by organic materials. Crusts are predominantly composed of cyanobacteria , green and brown algae, mosses, and lichens. Liverworts, fungi, and bacteria can also be important components.

Crusts contribute to a number of functions in the environment. Because they are concentrated in the top 1 to 4 mm of soil, they primarily effect processes that occur at the land surface or soil-air interface. These include soil stability and erosion, atmospheric nitrogen fixation, nutrient contributions to plants, soil-plant-water relations, infiltration, seedling germination, C02 offsets and plant growth. Crust-forming cyanobacteria have filamentous growth forms that bind soil particles. These filaments exude sticky polysaccharide sheaths around their cells that aid in soil aggregation by cementing particles together. Fungi, both free-living and as a part of lichens, contribute to soil stability by binding soil particles with hyphae. Lichens and mosses assist in soil stability by binding particles with rhizines/rhizoids, increasing resistance to wind and water action. The increased surface topography of some crusts, along with increased aggregate stability, further improves resistance to wind and water erosion. Crusts can alter water infiltration. Studies where crusts greatly increase surface roughness generally have increased infiltration with the presence of crusts. Where crusts do not significantly increase surface roughness, infiltration is generally reduced due to the presence of cyanobacterial filaments. Differences in findings are therefore site specific and also related to soil texture and chemical properties of the soil.

Living soil crusts also store C02 and their removal may contribute to a lack of organic offsets anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It would be a wise idea for BLM to calculate the amount of C02 that the removal of 4,000 acres of soil crust and vegetation would offset.

Cumulative Impacts

We request that BLM carefully consider the cumulative impacts on desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, other wildlife, rare plants and plant communities, water and soil resources, visual resources, and recreational multiple use of both southern Nevada public lands. Very significant industrialization of scenery, habitat degradation and fragmentation, reduction of soil and vegetation carbon sequestration, water use, loss of tourism dollars, and loss of multiple use on lands outweighs any small benefits of reducing carbon emissions by a small amount. The large footprint on multiple use land and very small amount of electricity actually generated leads us to request the No Action alternative, giving stakeholders more time to discuss better siting of these power plants.


While the use of solar energy is a clean technology, it is not environmentally responsible unless it is sited properly. Because solar energy requires so much space to produce the desired amount of energy from any given project, it will have a massive footprint if it is placed on relatively undisturbed land. Fortunately, that space on disturbed land is available in the state of Nevada and there are plenty of places that this technology should be used on. Urban centers in Southern Nevada have limitless unused roof tops, parking lots, billboards, degraded urban lots, etc., etc, that have not been utilized yet for this technology. The BLM lands in the area of the project site are preserved for multiple use activities, but giving away so much land for energy development only conforms to one user group, energy developers. There are alternatives to this kind of “energy sprawl”. For many reasons, we support the No Action Alternative.

Thank you,

Basin and Range Watch


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