Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 10, 2015

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, (323) 490-0223 or

Renewable Energy Plan for California Desert Is Improved, But Still Falls Short

LOS ANGELES— The Bureau of Land Management today released a plan for renewable energy development and conservation on public land in the California deserts. This final preferred alternative covers the nearly 10 million acres of federal lands in the desert and is intended to be the cornerstone for the larger Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which was split into two phases earlier this year.

“The final plan is an improvement from the draft but still falls short, and we urge further improvements to it,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll evaluate this plan to determine whether areas designated for development still include sensitive habitat for endangered species and the extent to which lands set aside for conservation are permanently and fully protected from a range of development threats.”

The combined state and federal plan was designed to create a path for balancing land and wildlife conservation with renewable-energy development on public and private lands. The initial plan covered more than 22 million acres of public and private lands, including more than 12 million acres of existing public conservation lands. The goal of the joint efforts is to get the best balance of conservation and renewable energy to conserve California’s world-class deserts while allowing for a rapid transition away from fossil fuel energy.

“There’s no doubt that we need to immediately transition to renewable energy, but it has to be done right,” Anderson said. “Lands managed by the BLM have some of the last, best habitat for desert plants and animals. With BLM going forward first, it’s crucial that conservation on public lands is robust and permanent.”

The impacts of climate change are being seen around the world, especially in ecologically sensitive areas like deserts, and are projected to increase substantially. In order to combat these impacts, clean energy technology must be embraced in a way that protects the long-term health of land, water and wildlife.

“Large-scale renewable energy development is necessary but is best sited on already degraded and disturbed lands, near existing transmission lines,” said Anderson. “We also need more distributed solar on existing roofs and over parking lots, which generates energy near the point of consumption. Using the already-built environment for renewable energy development is a win for climate change, clean energy, local jobs and our treasured deserts.”

The BLM’s final desert plan, an improvement from the draft plan, still falls short in reaching key goals, including:

  • Identifying areas for renewable-energy development focused on disturbed and degraded lands near existing transmission to avoid the impacts to wildlife and natural resources. Among the public lands that would remain open to development are highly sensitive habitats and key movement corridors that should be preserved. Unfortunately, going forward with the public lands as the first phase of the plan has resulted in more pressure to allow future development on intact public lands rather than steering development to disturbed lands.
  • Identifying the right places for conservation, connecting existing conservation investments and providing movement corridors critical for species to survive climate change. The final plan provides new conservation designations in some places and additional overlaying designations, including motorized recreation area designations which may undermine protections for many existing conservation areas. Improvements are still necessary, particularly for lands in the west Mojave Desert.
  • The plan also falls short because it fails to ensure real, on-the-ground protection of these areas from damaging activities such as uncontrolled off-road vehicle use, grazing and mining.

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