Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Plan Stiffs Conservation in Favor of Cattle

The actions of the Obama Administration on environmental matters is disappointing to say the least. Now, the Carrizo Plain National Monument has a plan, and The Wilderness Society published an article lauding the newly adopted plan and the protections it will give endangered species of flora and fauna. The Center for Biological Diversity gives the plan a more negative and mixed review.

Below is the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release.

For Immediate Release, April 9, 2010

Contact: Michael Connor, Western Watersheds Project, (818) 345-0425 (w); (818) 312-4496 (mobile); mjconnor@westernwatersheds.org
Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943 (w); (323) 490-0223 (mobile); ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org
Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Plan Comes Up Short for Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO— The Interior Department has put in place a 20-year plan for California’s Serengeti – the Carrizo Plain National Monument – that sacrifices rare wildlife habitat and native-plant preservation to entrenched livestock-grazing interests. Located in the western foothills of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the monument was created in 2001 to protect the visual splendor, cultural resources, rare plants, and wildlife of the valley’s largest remaining native habitat. The Carrizo Plain, an arid plain formed by the San Andreas fault, includes 206,635 acres of Bureau of Land Management-administered lands as well as lands administered by the state, private entities, and conservation groups.

“The Carrizo Management Plan is a step forward,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, “but it still fails to recognize the science, which clearly shows that grazing hurts rare species.”

While the management plan is an improvement over the Bureau’s long history of neglect of the Carrizo, it inexplicably allows livestock grazing to continue despite scientific studies that confirm grazing activities degrade habitat and undermine the long-term conservation of wildlife. The national monument is home to many endangered and rare species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, giant kangaroo rat, California condor, pronghorn antelope, tule elk, vernal pool species, and a suite of rare native plants.

“The BLM is trying to argue in this plan that livestock grazing should continue as a management tool, but all the science shows the opposite,” said Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project. “The science shows that cattle presence on the plain increases nonnative weeds, is detrimental to rare plants, and impacts federally protected species, so this simply is not a viable approach.”

“In the face of a changing climate, preserving the Carrizo Plain ecosystem with its suite of rare and imperiled species is imperative if we are to recover these species in the wild,” said Anderson. “The Bureau of Land Management’s previous management was based on 19th-century practices; the new plan moves the Bureau’s practices into the 20th century, but they still need to get to the 21st.”

Here are some of the public comments. The BLM’s RMP process can be found here.

If you have thoughts about the plan, please share them in the comments section.

Carrizo Plain as National Monument May Not Last Forever

Bring Down Barbed Wire

Volunteer Carrizo Plain Excursion to Remove Disruptive, Destructive Fences
Friday, February 19, 2010
By Jordan Miller

Camping, hiking, and eating a potluck dinner are some of the activities that local volunteers will participate in this weekend at the Carrizo Plain National Monument as they work to remove barbed wire fences that have inhibited pronghorn antelope from enjoying their natural habitat.

Rebekah Rafferty of Los Padres Forest Watch describes the pronghorn as “the fastest land mammal native to North America” and is worried that “abandoned barbed wire fences currently fragment the pronghorn’s movement … [They] cannot jump high enough to clear them.” To help the antelope roam freely once more, Los Padres Forest Watch is organizing a weekend excursion to Carrizo that will highlight the beauty of the plain while respecting its natural inhabitants by removing the dangerous clutter that prevents the antelope from exercising their freedom.

While the Carrizo Plain has been deemed a national monument, it may not last forever. Recent stimulus bills have inspired multiple companies to begin major planning and seemingly inevitable construction in the plains. This will reportedly not only displace the wildlife population but also destroy countless acres of serene nature. In other words, this may be the best time to catch a glimpse of the fleeting beauty that has been heralded as a natural treasure. [Emphasis added]

The weekend trip begins on Saturday, February 20 at 8:30 a.m. at the Goodwin Visitors’ Center. Food, water, gloves, and camping gear are essential for the trip. If you wish to join, contact Rebekah Rafferty at Rebekah@LPFW.org with the subject as “Pronghorn Fence Removal” and include a name, address, phone number, and number of people attending.

Volunteers Remove Fences on Carrizo for Pronghorn

Thanks to the volunteers who remove fencing so the Carrizo Plain National Monument can be a place for antelope to thrive! The volunteers do so much good work!
From The Cattle Network:

The fences crossing the desolate Carrizo Plain are remnants of the hardscrabble homesteaders who arrived a century ago, then abandoned the arid, alkaline land to the elements.

Now the barbed-wire legacy of ranching and farming on this inhospitable landscape in California is being blamed for threatening the recovery of antelope that were reintroduced in 1990 after being slaughtered to near extinction.

The long stretches of fence spread across the range prevent the Pronghorn from fleeing predators and seeking forage, and are a big reason why the herd has the worst survival rate in the West. Pronghorn are North American’s fastest runners, but cannot jump the fences.

So volunteers have taken on a cowboy’s most odious ranch task, hoping to improve the odds of the herd by taking down fences. Suffering bloody scrapes and punctures, they dismantle rusty barriers and modify others to give the antelope of the Carrizo P lain National Monument a fighting chance against coyotes that vastly outnumber them.

“You get a sense of satisfaction opening things up and making them free and wild again,” says Alice Koch, a state wildlife biologist who started the fence project on her own on her days off but now has a cadre of volunteers who proudly show off their battle wounds. “We’re opening their world up into a better and more survivable one.”

The Pronghorn are part of a debate over the future of the Carrizo Plain, designated a national monument by the federal government nine years ago. A draft management plan for the park indicated some cattle grazing would be allowed to control invasive species, but the EPA and others have countered that cattle can adversely affect native species as well. Those comments are under final review.

“Grazing is somewhat contentious,” said volunteer Craig Deutsche, who organizes four work trips a year. “Is it helpful or harmful? Do ranchers have rights by priority? Do cows have rights here since they are not native? It’s something to think about as we do the work.”

The fence volunteers’ work is painstakingly slow. It must be done by hand, and all wire carried out on foot to protect the fragile underground burrows of endangered species such as kit fox, antelope squirrels and kangaroo rats.

But there is an incredible amount of work to do: Volunteers put in more hours than the Bureau of Land Management could afford to hire out.

“If we had to contract this out, it would probably get done only in critical areas,” said Ryan Cooper of the BLM. “Their goal is every fence on the monument.”

The grassy plain 80 miles west of Bakersfield is isolated by the Temblor Mountains – an upthrust of the San Andreas Fault – and the Coast Range. Officials say it is the only place in the world where Pronghorn and Tule elk, also once plentiful in California’s Central Valley, have been reintroduced together to replicate an extinct landscape.

The elk have adapted so well that sometimes they are subject to limited hunting.

The Pronghorn? In the state’s other two regions where they have been reintroduced in habitats not crossed with cattle fences, 25 percent survive to the age at which they can outrun coyotes. In the Carrizo, it is less than 10 percent, a number that inspires the fence removers to give up their weekends and holidays.

Some abandoned fence inside the monument is removed entirely, but along miles of others that still hold cattle, volunteers stoop to replace the bottom wire with a smooth strand high enough for the 90 or so goat-sized Pronghorn to squeeze under.

“It’s a meditation for me,” said Suzanne Swedo of Los Angeles, who spent a long New Year’s holiday with 14 other volunteers an hour and a half’s drive from the nearest grocery store. “When I’m out here working, if I have anything on my mind, it just goes away.”

Their headquarters is the old prairie hous e owned by the Nature Conservancy where the Carrizo’s first manager lived when President Clinton created the monument in a flurry of public land designations three days before he left office.

Once it was common on the Carrizo to see the tan-colored antelope nervously pacing a fence they could not figure out how to bypass. As of the new year, 150 of 200 targeted miles of fence on 250,000 acres have been modified or removed by the volunteers.

Against the backdrop of this beautiful desolation, their success is not always measurable by the wire-mile.

“If you’ve ever seen them go under a fence you’ve just removed, it’s a beautiful thing,” said Janice Hamilton, a family therapist from Santa Barbara. “I’ll do anything to preserve some of this for my grandchildren.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Obama Admin’s growing “environmental” record is cause for concern

This is a repost of PEER’s (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) ObamaWatch newsletter. Ordinarily I just deal with things that have to do with the Carrizo, but the administration’s position on whistleblowers and several other decisions by Ken Salazar, Sec. of Interior, and Lisa Jackson of the EPA, relate to broader issues that affect the Carrizo, including solar energy. PEER is also looking for people to serve on its ObamaWatch committee called Support Scrutiny. PEER’s Membership & Outreach Coordinator, Debbie Davidson, who can also be reached by phone at (202) 265-7337. Information provided is considered CONFIDENTIAL and is protected by law.

Campaigns – Obama Watch – At Issue

A visitor to the White House website for information about eco-policies will not find an “agenda” for the environment. Instead, the category is “Energy & Environment” and that ordering appears intentional.

Other than curbing greenhouse gases, there is no mention of environmental priorities such as safeguarding clean water, reducing pollution threats to public health, conserving wildlife and protecting vital habitat, averting collapse of marine fisheries, or ending abuse of public lands through practices ranging from mountaintop removal to overgrazing.

Nothing….

Look at a growing record that is cause for concern:

Climate Change

* Obama has embraced a watered-down climate change bill that Dr. Jim Hansen and other experts warn will do too little too late;
* Central to the Obama effort is embrace of a cap-and-trade approach that is unworkable and unenforceable.

Coal Embrace

* Central to the Obama energy program is an embrace of more coal and developing “Clean Coal Technology” – a process that does not yet exist. In the interim, the administration is funding schemes to pump sequestered carbon into the ocean floor;
* The Obama team has backed away from promises to restrain the environmental damage wreaked by mountaintop removal coal mining;
* In a huge and dangerous hidden subsidy to the coal industry, the Obama administration delays taking action to address toxic coal combustion wastes.

Oil & Gas
The Obama plan seeks to reduce reliance on foreign oil by increasing production of domestic oil – with no limits:

* Drill, Baby, Drill – No part of the Outer Continental Shelf or the domestic U.S. has been put off-limits to petroleum production. Some lease sales have been slowed for further review – but they will be back;
* The Obama administration has approved a pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands, one of the most environmentally destructive petroleum extraction sources, to U.S. refineries (so much for ending dependence on foreign oil);
* Obama’s Interior department has defended a Bush plan to lease western Colorado’s beautiful Roan Plateau for oil and gas drilling; and
* A key priority is to back the construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline championed by Alaskan ex-Gov. Sarah Palin;
* Washington Post, Oct. 20: The Interior Department has approved permits for Shell to drill exploratory oil wells on two leaseholds in the Beaufort Sea off the north coast of Alaska.

Mining

* The administration did not object to a Corps permit allowing a gold mine to dump its wastes into Alaska’s Lower Slate Lake, killing all its aquatic life;

Natural Resources

* The Obama administration has embraced the failed Bush salmon recovery plans for the Pacific Northwest that put power production ahead of species survival;

Oceans

* The administration has allowed Bush permits for destructive fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico to go into effect;

Forestry

* The administration approved the first timber sale in a roadless area of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest;

Endangered Species

* In one of its earliest actions, the administration took the wolf off the endangered species list, clearing the way for hunting to begin through much of the West;
* Backing a move by the Bush administration, the Obama administration issued rules forbidding use of the Endangered Species Act to address habitat loss, like the shrinking ice shelves on which polar bears depend, caused by greenhouse gas emissions and climate change

Parks & Refuges

* Obama signed legislation allowing the open carrying of loaded firearms in parks and refuges – the first time a president has signed a law weakening wildlife protections in the National Park System;
* Obama’s Interior Department is defending the planting of genetically-modified crops on National Wildlife Refuges.

Toxics

* EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson dropped an appeal to the Supreme Court in a case that struck down Bush-era limits on mercury pollution from coal power plants, which unnecessarily permit more of the toxic chemical into the atmosphere;
* The Obama administration has ducked the problem of growing water pollution from oil “fracking” chemicals and coal-bed methane gas operations; and
* EPA continues to endorse using shredded tires in playgrounds despite red flags raised by its own scientists.

Appointees

* The Obama Administration has nominated a former pesticide lobbyist to be the chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (October 26, 2009).
* Obama’s Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, proclaims that “energy independence” is his number one priority. Not only is energy independence an unrealistic goal but any attempt to realize it from the public lands managed by Interior would involve turning America’s great heritage of wild lands into a giant energy farm;
* Obama’s EPA pick, Lisa Jackson, compiled an abysmal record in New Jersey including a dysfunctional toxics program, suppression of science, and retaliation against whistleblowers;
* The pick to head the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Sam Hamilton, has the weakest record on Endangered Species Act enforcement in the country and tried to fire a scientist who exposed scientific fraud by the agency in issuing an unending stream of development approvals (even to this day) in shrinking habitat of the highly endangered Florida panther; and
* The choice to head the Office of Surface Mining, Joseph Pizarchik, has drawn the opposition of citizens and conservationists alike for his horrid record on acid mine drainage, subsidence from longwall mining, valley fill with mine slag and using toxic coal combustion waste as mine fill. Astoundingly, he ducked all questions on mountaintop removal mining at his confirmation hearing.

Whistleblowers

* As a candidate, Barack Obama frequently promised to “strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority.” Since he has been president, the only time he mentioned the need to protect whistleblowers was when he addressed the Parliament of Ghana.
* None of the prominent Bush-era whistleblower cases has been settled. In fact, the Obama administration is continuing the persecution of these whistleblowers in court;
* New whistleblowers are being fired or targeted while Obama appointees do nothing. Cases out of the Labor Department, Homeland Security, NASA, Wildlife Services and other agencies originated after Inauguration day and are heading to hearing;
* A package of strong whistleblower protections for federal employees was dropkicked out of the stimulus bill with not a peep of protest from – or with tacit support of – the Obama administration;
* The Obama administration has not committed to support whistleblower reform legislation that has passed the House for the past three years in a row; and
* After denouncing Bush’s signing statements, President Obama promptly issued one while signing the FY09 Omnibus Appropriations bill that he reserves the inherent authority to prevent civil servants from disclosing inconvenient truths to Congress.

Consider Taking Action for PEER to protect the Carrizo and other special lands from environmental destruction, as well as to protect federal employees from interference with their job duties and from workplace bullying that still goes on in the Department of Interior.

Carrizo Plain National Monument Proposed Resource Management Plan Published

Taft: Carrizo Plain National Monument Proposed Resource Management Plan Published
November 13, 2009
Carrizo Plain National Monument Selby Rocks in the foreground, Painted Rock and Soda Lake in background.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released the Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo and western Kern counties.

The Monument was designated by proclamation in 2001 in recognition of its ecological importance as the largest undeveloped remnant of the vast grasslands that once covered central California. It is dramatically bisected by the San Andreas Fault and provides habitat for many native plant and animal species.

The proposed plan “balances public access with protection of the monument’s special resources,” according to Johna Hurl, monument manager. The Monument, which covers 206,000 acres of public lands administered by the BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office, is managed in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Game and The Nature Conservancy, which both own land within the Monument.

A draft was published in January 2009 for public review and public meetings held throughout the region. “We made a number changes from the draft RMP in response to public comments,” Hurl said, such as expanding the area proposed to be managed for wilderness characteristics, clarifying language regarding grazing and mineral interests, and allowing only street-legal vehicles on designated routes.

A 30-day public protest period begins today with the Notice of Availability published in the Federal Register by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During this period, ending December 14, 2009, any person who participated in the planning process and believes they may be adversely affected by approval of the plan may submit a protest. A final decision on the RMP will not be issued until protests are resolved. Procedures for filing protests are available at www.blm.gov/ca/bakersfield.

Copies of the document are available at the Bakersfield Field Office, 3801
Pegasus Drive, Bakersfield and online at
http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bakersfield.html For more information,
contact the Monument information line at 661-391-6034.

Three Condor Chicks Dead

Three Condor Chicks Dead

By Jeff Kuyper, Los Padres ForestWatch

Three young California condors in our area were found dead recently, spelling bad news for recovery efforts. On the bright side, seven chicks were born in the wild in California this year, bringing the statewide tally to 89 birds.

In late July, biologists found condor chick #503 lying in thick brush below a redwood tree adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest in Big Sur. It’s gut was full of microtrash—small bits of plastic, glass, bottle caps, bullet shells and other items that condor chicks are unable to digest. The second bird–condor #358–strangled itself on a rope abandoned near Tar Creek Falls along Sespe Creek near nesting areas. The third bird—condor #539—was retrieved from its nest near Sespe Creek earlier this month. Microtrash is suspected of playing a role in its death, too, though biologists are still awaiting the report on the final cause of death.

ForestWatch and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service launched a joint effort this month to remove microtrash from 8 sites in the Los Padres National Forest. Our first cleanup took place Saturday, Sept. 26, coinciding with National Public Lands Day. We worked to remove trash from the Sespe Creek area.

On October 3-4, join ForestWatch and the Sierra Club to help remove abandoned barbed wire fencing in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

This fencing blocks rare pronghorn antelope from roaming freely, and they are unable to jump over it. We’ll remove fences on Saturday, have a potluck dinner, camp and spend Sunday morning exploring the area. Go to http://www.lpfw.org/action.htm to learn more.

Jeff Kuyper is Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the forest with community involvement, innovative fieldwork, scientific collaboration and legal advocacy.

Will solar energy plants cause irreparable harm to endangered flora and fauna?

http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/story/840092.html
Saturday, Sep. 05, 2009
Solar mecca
Plans to build three large energy plants on the Carrizo Plain could turn SLO County into a nationwide pioneer — but the proposals aren’t without critics, who say the industrial uses would cause irreparable harm to the area’s environment and wildlife
By By David Sneed | dsneed@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County could become the nation’s leader in solar energy if three large-scale commercial solar plants are approved to start operating near the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Two are photovoltaic plants that use solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, they would be the two largest photovoltaic systems in the world.

The third would also be the world’s largest of its kind: a solar thermal plant that uses the sun’s heat to drive electrical steam generators.
Click image to see caption

The setting sun silhouettes existing transmission lines and a landscape of hills edging the Carrizo Plain. The lines would carry energy generated at three proposed solar plants to the California grid and are a key reason for the choice of location.

The plants could be online as early as 2013. Together, they would produce 977 megawatts of power, enough electricity to serve more than 100,000 homes. Not only are the plants large, they are also on track to be some of the first to come online, said Sue Kateley, executive director of the California chapter of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

“San Luis Obispo County could be the first to see the actual shovels in the ground,” she said.

Several factors are driving this unprecedented growth of solar power.

One is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ambitious goal of having 33 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2020. State and federal tax breaks also encourage the quick development of renewable energy sources.

All three plants are still in the planning phase with state and county officials processing construction applications, but little seems to stand in the way of their eventual approval. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has signed contracts to purchase all the power they will produce.

The solar projects will pump millions of dollars into the county and help diversify an economy dominated by government and tourism jobs. Other renewable energy projects could follow.

But they will also carry a hefty environmental price.

Two of the plants will occupy nearly 10 square miles and feature millions of photovoltaic panels, concentrated in the top third of the Carrizo Plain, which covers hundreds of square miles.

The third plant will be a highly industrialized, steam-driven power plant covering one square mile and complete with nearly 200 mirror assemblies and 115-foot-tall cooling towers.

They will be built in one of the last remnants of grassland in California, an ecosystem so rare that it contains the state’s highest concentration of endangered plants and animals. They will also sit astride migration pathways used by tule elk and pronghorn antelope.

Public sentiment is divided on the issue.

Many welcome the plants, with some conservationists arguing that sparsely populated California Valley is the ideal location for the projects. Others lament the radical changes they will bring to a stark but beautiful place, saying they will take too heavy a toll on a host of species teetering on the brink of extinction.

A handful of people will be profoundly affected. More than 30 homes are in the vicinity of the plants, and several will be completely surrounded by photovoltaic panels.

Residents of California Valley will deal with increased traffic, noise and lights at night. Additional demands will be made on the area’s already scarce water resources.

But the biggest impact will be the transformation of a vast pastoral landscape populated by more cattle than people into a major commercial electrical generation center.

The effects three solar plants on California grasslands

Monday, Sep. 07, 2009
Tribune special report: Valley of life
Though the Carrizo Plain may look like a desolate, inhospitable landscape, the remote grasslands are actually home to California’s largest concentration of endangered species, many of which live in underground burrows and are very rarely seen
By David Sneed | dsneed@thetribunenews.com

To the motorist passing on Highway 58, California Valley can look like a whole lot of nothing — brown flatlands nearly devoid of vegetation and inhabited by the occasional cow or raven.

If you’re lucky, you can catch sight of a pronghorn antelope or tule elk grazing in the distance.

But to the trained eye of a biologist like John Davis, the valley is full of signs of a vibrant wildlife community living in the state’s last remnant of grassland. Many of the animals live underground in this treeless environment, coming out only at night.
Click image to see caption

Biologists from URS Corp. — a Santa Barbara-based construction consulting firm — walk in lines while conducting a survey for blunt-nosed leopard lizards on SunPower’s Carrizo Plain site.

Of all the effects the three solar plants will have on the environment of the area, none are as significant as the wildlife impacts.

“Wildlife is the big issue,” said San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Jim Patterson, whose district includes the Carrizo Plain.

“The projects cover so much ground,” he added. “One of the major characteristics of the Carrizo is the multiple rare and endangered species found there.” The Carrizo Plain is the last remnant of grassland in the state.

The solar companies and the state Energy Commission are taking a coordinated look at wildlife issues. The effort has sparked controversy — the solar companies want some of the results of the study kept confidential because it may identify which lands they must purchase as mitigation and that could drive prices up.

Looking for lizards

Davis recently led a team of 24 biologists who were surveying a portion of the area that is proposed to be the site of SunPower’s California Valley Solar Ranch along the valley’s eastern edge.

SunPower hired Davis’ employer, URS Corp., a Santa Barbara-based construction consulting firm, to survey the more than three square miles on which the company will build the plant. One day recently, the URS team went looking for blunt-nosed leopard lizards, one of more than 70 rare and endangered animals that live in the area.

None were found — just as none of the lizards have been found on the other two proposed solar sites. But lots of other rare animals have been seen, including burrowing owls, San Joaquin kit foxes, coast horned lizards, the San Joaquin coachwhip snake and kangaroo rats.

Davis thinks the absence of the lizard is due to the fact that the valley is a marginal habitat for them. This site will be surveyed 12 times before biologists are satisfied that none live there.

“You can’t rule them out just because the habitat is marginal,” he said. “That’s why we do these presence/absence surveys.”

The biologists form a line, each person about 100 feet apart. They begin to walk. Occasionally, one stops to examine a hole in the ground or peer through binoculars at the landscape ahead.

The first thing that stands out is that the ground is full of holes. The holes range from large ones where kit foxes have made their dens or badgers have tunneled after ground squirrels to ones so small you could barely insert a pencil where pocket mice have made their dens.

But the most impressive are kangaroo rat dens — complexes, really. They feature numerous holes, both horizontal and vertical, leading to a network of tunnels. Areas of barren dirt mark where the rats have taken dust baths to eliminate parasites.

Some areas are covered with brown vegetative mats where the rats store red brome seeds, their burrs knitted together to prevent them from blowing away. The ground is also pockmarked with small pits where other grass seeds are stowed.

Davis stoops to measure the diameter of the holes. Biologists are uncertain exactly which species of kangaroo rat is making the holes — the endangered giant kangaroo rat or its more diminutive and more common cousin, the Heermann’s variety.

Before European Americans settled California, much of the Central Valley was covered with massive expanses of grass that hosted numerous herds of deer, antelope and elk.

Those grasslands were converted to farms and oil fields. Only the Carrizo Plain was spared because it lacked enough oil and water to be commercially viable.

This last fragile grassland remnant is so ecologically valuable that President Bill Clinton established the Carrizo Plain National Monument in the waning hours of his presidency in 2000 to protect it.

California Valley, comprising the plain’s northern end, was not included because it had been the most intensely farmed and is where the area’s few residents live.

Fox habitat

Of the myriad of rare species that survive in the Carrizo Plain, none is as important as the endangered San Joaquin kit fox. Populations of the little canine are scattered from the Carrizo northwest into Monterey County and Camp Roberts.

Ensuring that the three proposed solar plants do not block the fox’s migration routes, destroy den habitat or otherwise reduce its chances for survival will be the biggest challenge faced by the solar companies and state and federal wildlife managers.

“The kit fox is what we call an umbrella species,” said Dave Hacker, a state environmental scientist based in San Luis Obispo, who is monitoring wildlife issues associated with the solar farms. “If you can meet the conservation needs of the kit fox you can meet the needs of the other species in the area.”

Unfortunately, the proposed solar farms sit smack dab in the middle of the fox’s migration routes, as well as those of tule elk and pronghorn antelope. Because the fox is federally listed as endangered, its conservation needs far outweigh those of the elk and antelope.

Clearing a pathway

The two sprawling photovoltaic plants will have the biggest potential impact on the fox. Consequently, the companies say they have designed their projects to be as fox-friendly as possible.

Steps they plan on taking include raising the solar panels some 18 inches off the ground to allow the fox to move through the area and maintain a clear line of sight in order to avoid predators.

They plan to provide fencing around the plants that will allow the fox passage. Both photovoltaic plants have also scrapped plans to use concrete pedestals as foundations for their panel arrays in favor of sinking the foundation poles a short way into the ground.

Wildlife officials say this arrangement maximizes visibility for the fox. Not having to mix concrete also reduces water consumption.

Because the wildlife impacts are so important, the state Energy Commission has hired the consulting firm South Coast Wildlands to perform a wildlife corridor study that will look at the cumulative impacts of all three solar plants, said John Kessler, the commission’s Carrizo Plain project manager.

“The goal of this study is to provide and maintain an equivalent alternate corridor for wildlife as is utilized currently, considering the proposed project effects,” he said.

In spite of these efforts, the three solar plants will inevitably destroy or degrade wildlife habitat. The standard way to offset those impacts is to permanently conserve alternative habitat to replace it.

Ausra has options to purchase six square miles of nearby land to offset the environmental impact of its one-square-mile proposed solar thermal plant.

Similarly, SunPower is planning to use only about three square miles of the nearly seven square miles it has acquired, with the rest available for wildlife mitigation. First Solar has reduced the footprint of its project by 2,000 acres which would be available for wildlife mitigations.

The commission hopes to have the corridor study complete sometime this fall. The state Department of Fish and Game will then use the information to decide mitigation measures each plant must undertake.

“Wildlife cannot be worse off after these projects are built,” Hacker said. “That can be a challenge when you are looking at large-scale projects like these.”

Secret info?

The possibility that the solar companies will have to purchase additional land for wildlife mitigation has generated a controversy. The solar companies have requested that parts of the study be kept confidential.

They are afraid that if the study identifies certain properties for mitigation, the price of those properties could increase.

“This type of volatility could potentially have a negative impact on corridor mitigation activities, the interests of local landowners and the advancement of development of solar energy projects,” said Ausra spokeswoman Katherine Potter in a prepared statement.

California Valley residents are fighting the confidentiality effort as unnecessary. They say that property owners in the area are already well aware of the solar projects and would take them into consideration if they received any purchase offers.

Confidentiality would also limit public participation in the study, which has been valuable in increasing its accuracy, opponents say. A decision on the request is pending.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.

Carrizo Resource Management Plan’s final meeting June 12

BLM Announces Meeting On Proposed Plan for Carrizo Plain National Monument

The Bureau of Land Management will hold a public meeting June 12 to discuss a Proposed Resource Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

The meeting will run from 2-4 p.m. at the old Farm Bureau building, located about one mile east of Soda Lake Road on Highway 58 north of the monument.

The monument includes about 206,000 acres of public lands administered by the agency’s Bakersfield Field Office in San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.

“We will review comments received on the Draft RMP/EIS and discuss the Proposed RMP/Final EIS being developed,” said Johna Hurl, monument manager. The plan was developed in cooperation with BLM’s Managing Partners – The Nature Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game – the Monument Advisory Committee and the public, she added. Comments ranged from livestock grazing; energy and mineral development; motorized vehicle use and wilderness.

Individuals who plan to attend and need special assistance such as sign language interpretation or other reasonable accommodations should contact Carrizo RMP Line (661) 391-6034. You may also call that number for additional information on the RMP.

Obama Restores Key Provision of Endangered Species Act

This is not about the Carrizo specifically, but since the Carrizo has more endangered species than any place in California, it seems particularly apropos. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/03/03/obama_restores_endangered_spec.html?hpid=topnews

Obama has restored a key provision of the Endangered Species Act.

Obama is scheduled to visit the Interior Department this afternoon, to
commemorate the agency’s 160th anniversary.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity,
said the memorandum would have a tremendous impact.
“Endangered species are breathing a deep sigh of relief today,”
Suckling said. “The consultation process is the heart of the Endangered
Species Act power. By reversing Bush’s attempt to deregulate the
consultation process, Obama restored oversight and balance and has
given endangered species a good fighting chance of survival.”