By Kevin Emmerich

Special to The Ely Times

Last week, conservation groups asked the U.S. District Court in Reno, Nevada to order Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to take a fresh look at a controversial wind project in an area with the densest concentrations of protected golden eagles and one of the densest desert tortoise populations in Nevada. The latest motion asks Judge Miranda Du to vacate the Record of Decision and require the Secretary of the Interior to make a new decision whether to approve the project after the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provide additional explanation for their wildlife analyses.

On February 3, 2015, Judge Du had ordered BLM to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on eagles due to inadequate surveys. In 2011, surveys funded by BLM found twenty-eight golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the project site, many more than the three nests the developer reported in its flawed avian surveys. However, the 2011 surveys were not included in the BLM’s original environmental study. In addition, a new study shows that golden eagles in the Mojave Desert travel nearly 10 times as far from their nests to forage as previously thought, putting them in harm’s way from wind turbine collisions.

Judge Du also ordered BLM and USFWS to address their inadequate analyses of the density of desert tortoises in the project area, the adverse effects on desert tortoise habitat due to noise, the remuneration fee that the developer would have to pay as compensation for harming tortoises, blasting mitigation measures, the status of USFWS’s recommendations regarding eagle take permitting and an Eagle Conservation Plan, the conclusions about risks to bald eagles, protocols for golden eagle surveys, and risks and mitigation measures for bat species.

Basin & Range Watch, one of the conservationist plaintiffs, called for the Searchlight area to be a solar and wind energy exclusion zone in their comments on the Bureau of

Land Management Southern Nevada Resource Management Plan revision, which had a deadline for submitting comments on March 9.

The Searchlight Wind Energy Project would site 87 industrial scale wind turbines over 400 feet tall, about the height of the Palms Hotel, on the ridges and uplands next to Searchlight, Nevada and bordering scenic Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The project would negatively impact the scenery, threaten the desert tortoise, kill golden eagles, desecrate the view of Spirit Mountain—sacred to Native American Tribes— impact the historical mining district and damage the future tourism potential of the community.

Plaintiff and Searchlight Resident Judy Bundorf said, “The Searchlight area merits preservation from large-scale industrial development. The historic town is the ‘Gateway to Lake Mohave’ and Cottonwood Cove in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and is surrounded by beautiful Joshua trees and abundant wildlife. Thousands of tourists visit each year, and enjoy the wide-open vistas and unspoiled Mojave Desert scenery. Allowing a 9,000 acre, 14 square mile industrial wind energy project around the town would be a death knell for tourism, and for the rural lifestyle of people who call the little community home.”

“The project would be developed in a very scenic region that has a great potential to expand its tourism economy. The high desert surrounding Searchlight supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna including very old Joshua tree forests. The area should be managed to maintain open space. There are limitless opportunities for hiking, backcountry 4 wheel driving, wildlife viewing, boating, rock hounding and photography. The Bureau of Land Management has a unique opportunity to rethink this decision, cancel this project and manage the area for its scenic, cultural, wildlife and recreational values,” said Kevin Emmerich, Co-founder of Basin and Range Watch.

Basin and Range Watch is a grass roots organization of people who live in the deserts of Nevada and California, working to stop the destruction of our desert homeland. Industrial renewable energy companies are seeking to develop millions of acres of unspoiled habitat in our region. Our goal is to identify the problems of energy sprawl and find solutions that will preserve our natural ecosystems and open spaces.

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