Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 14, 2016

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

Renewable Energy Plan for California Desert Positive But Inadequate Step Forward

Missed Opportunity for Greater Wildlife Conservation

PALM DESERT, Calif.— Today Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will announce the adoption of the long-awaited “Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.” The ambitious plan, for 10 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in California’s deserts, aims to provide direction for renewable-energy development. While it increases protection for large areas of desert habitat, it fails to permanently conserve many lands important for wildlife and culture. In addition, it fails to rein in destructive recreational activities on the conserved lands because of overlapping designations.

“Finally having a plan in place will help prevent poorly sited renewable-energy projects,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a compromise plan that provides more than enough land to reach California’s current renewable-energy goals and beyond, but it fails to adequately protect important wildlife habitat.”

The overall goal of the plan is to coordinate local, state and federal efforts to achieve a balance between conservation of California’s world-class deserts and renewable-energy development as part of a rapid transition to non-fossil-fuel energy. The BLM’s plan is the first phase of coordinated planning efforts for renewables development; the state and local agencies continue planning for renewable energy on private lands in Phase 2.

The plan allocates 388,000 acres — more than 600 square miles — of the California desert as “development focus areas,” with another 40,000 acres remaining open to solar-energy development under a variance process. According to the California Energy Commission, this amount of land will be sufficient for California to meet its bold climate goals.  

Nearly 2.8 million acres of lands will be permanently conserved as “national conservation lands.” Another 1.4 million acres are designated as “areas of critical environmental concern” yet do not receive durable protection despite the fact that they are crucial for long-term conservation in light of rapid climate change. The plan also fails to address how conservation management will be funded and implemented; it provides no commitment to address increasing unlawful off-road vehicle use that destroys conservation lands.

“We should first be steering renewable-energy development to the most appropriate places in the built environment and on previously disturbed sites. We can both protect our beautiful desert and rapidly deploy renewable energy,” said Anderson. “We encourage the counties and the state, as part of Phase 2, to adopt local and state policies and incentives that significantly increase solar power on rooftops, parking lots and in communities, which reduces the inefficiency and impacts of long-distance transmission lines, too.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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