After five years of stakeholder engagement by Audubon California and others, the Bureau of Land Management last week released the Land Use Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DREC)) on 12 million acres of California’s desert that are owned by the people of the United States and managed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. The goal of the DRECP was to simultaneously plan both conservation and utility-scale renewable energy development and transmission in the desert.
Audubon California has participated for the last five years in the stakeholder process with input from our chapters in the California desert: Kern Audubon, Kerncrest Audubon, San Fernando Valley Audubon, San Bernardino Valley Audubon and San Diego Audubon. We submitted comments along with these chapters on the draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Our focus in the process was protecting Important Bird Areas, microphyll woodlands that only occupy 5% of the desert habitat but contain 90% of the desert birds, and migratory pathways. We were particularly concerned about focal species such as Golden Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, Burrowing owl, Tricolored blackbird, and Mountain Plover. Our intent was to identify areas where renewable energy could be developed on already disturbed lands, areas of less habitat value, close to transmission, and nearer to the energy demand of urban areas.
Generally Audubon California is pleased to the see BLM take this step and to spend resources on scientific data gaps in planning for our species and planning conservation at the same time. The State of California spent over $5million on vegetation mapping especially in the West Mojave. BLM spent over $1 million on Golden Eagle studies that provided a scientific basis for protections. A science panel was convened. There were many mapping exercises on habitats and species, all of which are transparent and can be accessed at the DRECP portal on http://drecp.databasin.org.
Still, we have concerns over lands that are unallocated and how they will be managed, the permanence of the conservation that BLM proposes for species, and a dry lake IBA that has been identified for development. We have not yet reviewed the conservation measures for the species we care about.
We will be reviewing the details in the documents to determine Audubon California’s position on the final document, and whether we will advocate for further protections.
The final plan provides for:
- 3.8 million acres to be classified as National Landscape Conservation System lands, the highest protection available without Congressional or Presidential action
- 40,000 acres of variance lands where renewable energy development is more difficult
- 800,000 acres of unallocated lands where conservation and management actions are specified
- 388,000 acres of public lands identified for development of utility-scale renewable energy and transmission.
The remainder of the lands have various designations including exclusion from wind and solar including Silurian Valley, Cadiz Valley, and other areas that were not excluded in the draft.
We applaud the BLM for taking this monumental, precedent-setting step of partnering with the USFWS, California Energy Commission and California Department of Fish & Wildlife to do simultaneous landscape-level planning for utility-scale renewable energy and conservation.