Solar Plants Threaten Tortoise, Greens Say


     LOS ANGELES (CN) - Two solar power projects on public land at the California-Nevada border threaten to wipe out the Mojave Desert tortoise, an environmental group claims in Federal Court.
     Defenders of Wildlife seeks to halt the 1,600-acre Stateline solar plant in San Bernardino County, and block the 2,400-acre expansion of the Silver State South facility on tortoise habitat in Ivanpah Valley.
     The nonprofit sued the Secretary of the Interior and the directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
     Defenders of Wildlife spokeswoman Kimberly Delfino said the group supports clean energy projects, but not "at the expense of imperiled wildlife."
     The group says it spent three years trying to persuade the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use alternative sites.
     Delfino said the agencies should "plan smart" and move the projects, built by private companies, into "low-conflict areas."
     "The Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects will destroy a critical recovery area for desert tortoises by cutting off the last open links between important tortoise populations - simply not the kind of renewable energy development that promotes a healthier environment for people and imperiled wildlife alike," Delfino said in a statement.
     The two projects are on BLM land. Stateline's 300-megawatt plant is 2 miles southwest of Primm, Nev., and the nearby Silver State plant is roughly a mile east of the small desert community.
     Fish and Wildlife estimates that over 30 years the project will kill close to 65 of the 947 tortoises in the Stateline habitat, and Silver State South will kill 90 tortoises.
     The Defenders of Wildlife, however, says the projects will kill all of the herbivorous reptiles, or force them to relocate.
     Both projects remove vegetation, and mow and grade to prepare for installation of the solar panels. Fences around the plants will stop tortoises from getting in or out, according to the group.
     "These projects will take up to 2,115 tortoises (including adults, subadults, juveniles, hatchlings and eggs); may kill as many as 150 adult tortoises; threaten to destroy the value of the essential habitat linkages for tortoises in the Ivanpah Valley; and will further fragment the dwindling remaining high quality tortoise habitat," the 24-page complaint states.
     Defenders of Wildlife claims that Fish and Wildlife previously opposed the Silver State South construction, but on Sept. 12, 2013 the service issued a biological opinion authorizing the solar projects.
     The Defenders call that opinion and a record of decision that gave final approval to the project "fundamentally flawed," and say the solar power plants violate the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     Defenders of Wildlife wants the court to vacate both decisions.
     Neither the Bureau of Land Management nor Fish and Wildlife immediately responded to requests for comment.