Many species, habitats and important landscapes, including wildlife connectivity, co-occur with potential renewable-energy facilities to be built in the area covered by the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Here are just a few.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, or DRECP, is an ambitious undertaking that is envisioned to both protect irreplaceable desert habitats, plants, animals and ecological processes and allow for the development of a significant amount of centralized renewable energy (from solar, wind and geothermal facilities, which will also require transmission lines) by focusing on areas with the least ecological impact.
The ancient desert tortoise ranges over millions of acres of the DRECP planning area. Despite existing conservation set-asides, the area’s desert tortoise populations continue to decline due to myriad factors, including urban development, livestock grazing, the ever-increasing use of off-road vehicles, disease and translocation projects. Desert tortoises are ecosystem engineers, excavating burrows that other animals use to escape the withering summer heat and fierce winter cold, and securing drinking depressions that create small ponds during rare desert rainstorms. These slow-moving, long-lived vegetarians are a bellwether for the health of the deserts, and their declining numbers indicate a serious problem. The DRECP must put safeguards in place to protect desert tortoises and conserve additional key habitat and connectivity areas to allow these fascinating reptiles a chance at recovery in light of climate change. Learn more about the desert tortoise.
Desert bighorn range across the DRECP planning area, using precipitously steep, rugged mountaintops as breeding and lambing habitat, for predator evasion and as summer refugia where rainwater captured in rocky basins and crevices (tinajas) provides critical water. They also use the slopes (bajadas) and intervening valley areas for forage during the winter/spring “green-up” of plants, as well as to move between mountain ranges. Desert bighorn rams range especially widely, supplying crucial genetic diversity between ewe groups. In order to maintain healthy populations of desert bighorn, a full complement of use areas must be preserved. Indeed, key connectivity areas that are currently blocked (primarily by interstate highways) need to be reconnected via overpasses through the DRECP. Future obstructions to movement areas must also be prevented.
Desert golden eagles
Desert golden eagles already make a tenuous living in the California deserts, yet close to 150 established territories — each of which include several nest sites — have been documented for decades within the DRECP area. Golden eagles have great fidelity to their nest sites, which are often on steep cliff faces, providing safety and defensible space for raising eaglets. As more tracking data become available, we know that, once fledged, desert eagles roam western North America but ultimately return to their natal areas to establish territories. In order for golden eagles to persist in the deserts, the DRECP must protect them from direct impacts, including wind turbine mortality, and protect their foraging areas, particularly around known nesting areas.
Southwestern willow flycatcher
The secretive southwestern willow flycatcher breeds in dense desert riparian areas along perennial streams. This diminutive songbird migrates from south and central America to breed in desert riparian oases in the southwest United States, so it uses the DRECP area for breeding as well as for making migration stop-overs before flying farther north. Assuring and expanding protected breeding habitat where this imperiled bird occurs in the DRECP will help stem its population declines and give the flycatcher a chance for recovery. Learn more about the southwestern willow flycatcher.
Barstow woolly sunflower
The minute Barstow woolly sunflower makes annual appearances during the spring wildflower bloom. Often overlooked because of its miniature size, this lovely little sunflower pops up in early spring on special clayey soils, unfurls its lemony yellow petals, produces seeds in three weeks and dies off. Most of its time is spent as seed on the desert soil surface, making it virtually impossible to detect except when it is in flower. Its preferred soils occur in a mosaic on the relatively flat desert lands of the western Mojave desert. Those same flat landscapes in the sunny Mojave are coveted by solar developers. Because of its very limited range and special soil requirements, the DRECP must provide protections for the sunflower through strategic habitat protection.
Each good rain year, an explosion of color paints the western part of the Antelope Valley — the western most point of the Mojave desert. Wildflower fields stripe and dot the landscape in swaths of blue, yellow, orange and pink of varying shades. As evening descends, white wildflowers unfurl, beckoning moths and other nighttime pollinators to their nectary rewards. This cacophony of floral exuberance occurs for only a few weeks per year before receding to the more typical monochromatic gold and gray greens of resident desert shrubs. Experiencing the stunning landscape of the Mojave’s wildflower fields has created an international cult following. Occurring on low-relief hills and plains, these wildflower fields are particularly vulnerable to renewable energy development due to their relative adjacency to the larger southern California energy market, and the windy and sunny environs of the Antelope Valley. The DRECP must safeguard these unique wildflower fields.