Oakland’s BrightSource Energy and Environmentalists throw down over a threatened tortoise
What some have billed as the world’s largest solar project in the Mojave came under fire again today. This time a baby desert tortoise led the charge with a cohort of environmentalists. While the tortoise provided a slow-motion picket around downtown Oakland, protestors lined up in front of BrightSource Energy’s corporate headquarters, determined to preserve the Mojave desert and keep solar projects local.
At risk of habitat loss from the project, the tortoise is becoming the iconic image for preservation of the Mojave. The Bureau of Land Management put the brakes on two-thirds of the Ivanpah solar farm when field biologists found more tortoises than initially expected. Tortoises found on site are being relocated and fenced off, preventing their gradual return.
Karen Rusiniack, member of the Oakland non-profit preservation group Desert Survivors, claims that relocation of the animals presents risks of its own. “Think about it,” she said. “These are creatures that have very limited resources in the desert. They are set up in their little burrows, they know where their little supermarket is, where they can go and get plants, they make little depressions in the landscape to get their water. They’re at home in their land.”
Two segments of the Ivanpah solar farm are on hold until the federal Fish and Wildlife Service issues a plan for relocating the tortoises. Despite the controversy, BrightSource maintains that the project will finish on schedule in 2013.