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BLM Clears Way for Renewable Energy While Protecting California Desert

Mojave Trails area, part of the lands protected by the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Credit: Bryn Jones
Mojave Trails area, part of the lands protected by the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Credit: Bryn Jones
November 11, 2015

The future of more than 10 million acres of public land in southern California desert areas is laid out in a plan released Tuesday by the Bureau of Land Management.

Phase one of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan sets aside 388,000 acres for renewable-energy projects and designates 3.8 million acres as national conservation lands.

Ken Rait, director of U.S. Public Lands for Pew Charitable Trusts, said the deal strikes the right balance between conservation and development.

"It creates certainty for the renewable-energy industry, the off-road vehicle community and miners," he said, "so that they know where developments may be able to occur in order to avoid the most ecologically sensitive lands."

The BLM started this process six years ago and released the initial draft last year to an avalanche of public comment.

Ryan Henson, senior policy director for the California Wilderness Coalition, said he is pleased that this revised proposal protects the Mojave Trails area north of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park, home to many iconic species such as the desert bighorn sheep, the desert tortoise and the Mohave ground squirrel.

"We've been struggling over the past year to get the BLM to protect particular landscapes like the Silurian Valley and the Cadiz Valley," he said, "and we're very excited to see those places being proposed for protection."

Gov. Jerry Brown now has 60 days to review the plan. The BLM is expected to release the final decision early next year.

Phase two of the plan will address development on nonfederal lands. The whole project is part of the Obama administration's Climate Action Plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

More information is online at blm.gov.

Support for this reporting is provided by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA