The Ivanpah solar thermal project consists of 5.4 square miles of high quality habitat for the Endangered Species Act protected desert tortoise, a fact that developers (and some investors) underestimated resulting in the temporary suspension of activities on phases 2 and 3 of the project site due to construction activities exceeding the incidental take limit (number of tortoises allowed to be disturbed) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set at 38 Endangered Species Act protected desert tortoises.
The temporary suspension of activities prompted the Bureau of Land Management to take a closer look, and issue a Revised Biological Assessment () estimating the number of desert tortoise the project may impact given what we now know. As it turns out, the initial incidental take limit of 38 was off the mark to the tune of thousands of desert tortoises:
More than 3,000 desert tortoises would be disturbed by a solar project in northeast San Bernardino County and as many as 700 young ones would be killed during three years of building, says a federal assessment issued Tuesday.
BLM now anticipates the loss or significant degradation of 3,520 acres of tortoise habitat and the harm of 57-274 adult tortoises, 608 juveniles, and 236 eggs inside the work area, and 203 adult tortoises and 1,541 juvenile tortoises outside the work area. BLM expects that most of the juvenile tortoises on the project will be killed.
Ultimately, BLM anticipates that the total number of tortoises that will be harassed or disturbed by construction of the Ivanpah Solar Thermal Plant to be 1,025 adult tortoises and 2,349 juveniles.
Had BLM, USFWS and developers underwent the appropriate and lawful environmental review this would have been anticipated. Unfortunately, the “fast-track” approval process insisted upon by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar missed it, and now the USFWS finds itself in a predicament.
Approve continuation of the project acknowledging the likely “take” of over 3,000 ESA protected desert tortoise ? Or blemish the administration by shutting down one of the most fiercely promoted developments in the country ?