Audubon California California Native Plant Society Center for Biological Diversity Defenders of Wildlife National Parks Conservation

Association Natural Resources Defense Council Sierra Club The Nature Conservancy

December 19, 2012 Via Electronic Mail (with Hard Copy to follow) Mike Pool, Acting Director Bureau of Land Management 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20240 RE: Request for a Regional Ecological Assessment and Conservation Plan for Ivanpah Valley

Dear Director Pool: The undersigned organizations are writing to request that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 1) immediately develop a landscape-level ecological assessment for the Ivanpah Valley in California and Nevada; and, 2) suspend issuing approvals for proposed and planned development projects until a coordinated conservation plan is implemented for the bistate region.1 Due to the extraordinary level of development currently underway or proposed in this region and its ecological importance, we believe that this assessment and conservation plan are critical to ensure that BLM actions and decisions are consistent with its legal mandates under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to: 1) “[m]anage habitat with an emphasis on ecosystems to ensure self-sustaining populations and a natural abundance and diversity of wildlife, fish, and plant resources on the public lands;”2 2) “[u]se habitat conservation assessments based on regional ecosystem assessments, where available, to develop conservation strategies and agreements that outline the program of work necessary to reduce, eliminate, or mitigate specific threats to sensitive species; and

We define the Ivanpah Valley as the region that extends from Cima Dome in the Mojave National Preserve in California and northward to where Sheep Mountain meets the Bird Spring Range near Jean, Nevada adjacent to Interstate 15. This region is bordered on the west by the Ivanpah, Clark and Spring mountain ranges and on the east by the New York and Lucy Gray mountain ranges. 2 BLM Manual 6500 – Wildlife and Fisheries Management.

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to develop an ecosystem management approach to conservation on BLM-administered lands”;3 and 3) ensure that “[a]ctions authorized by the BLM shall further the conservation and/or recovery of federally listed species.”4 Compliance with these laws and policies is especially important in the Ivanpah Valley considering the magnitude of current and proposed development and the pressure to develop various land uses. The BLM’s approach to review and permit individual projects on a case-bycase basis does not allow for adequate assessment of cumulative impacts on wildlife and natural resources, and has resulted in a failure to appropriately avoid, minimize or mitigate for landscape-level impacts to the region. In addition, without a comprehensive landscape-level analysis, it is impossible for stakeholders to assess whether any of the proposed projects are appropriate in their current, or modified, forms. Therefore, we urge BLM to suspend further permitting of individual projects while the analysis is being completed. Land use impacts include, in addition to multiple high-acreage renewable energy projects, the Southern California Edison Eldorado-Ivanpah transmission line and Ivanpah substation; a wastewater treatment project in Jean, NV; Ivanpah Valley Airport; DesertXpress High-speed Train Project; Caltrans Joint Port of Entry; Calnev Pipeline Expansion Project; and the Mountain Pass Lateral gas transmission pipeline serving the Molycorp Mine. We believe a landscape-scale ecological assessment and conservation plan for the Ivanpah Valley is essential for the following reasons: 1. To Protect the Resource Values in the Ivanpah Valley. The Ivanpah Valley is located near federally designated wilderness areas and the Mojave National Preserve and has been identified as ecologically important habitat in a variety of studies. For example, in the Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment prepared by The Nature Conservancy, Ivanpah Valley is identified as ecologically core in California and parts of Nevada, with most of the Nevada portion identified as ecologically intact.5 The biological importance of this region should not be underestimated; natural communities in Ivanpah Valley support rare and diverse plants and animals including genetically distinct populations of the threatened desert tortoise which occur in relatively high densities.6 As stated above, under the current approach, the BLM is failing to adequately assess and account for the cumulative impacts from the current and proposed development. Only a properly defined landscape scale assessment and conservation plan will adequately protect the biological resources and values in the Ivanpah Valley. 2. To Address Uncertainty Regarding Efficacy of Mitigation. Under the current approach, the BLM is evaluating and assessing mitigation requirements on a project-by3 4

BLM Manual 6840 – Special Status Species Management Ibid. 5 Randall, J. M., S.S. Parker, J. Moore, B. Cohen, L. Crane, B. Christian, D. Cameron, J. MacKenzie, K. Klausmeyer and S. Morrison. 2010. Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment. Unpublished Report. The Nature Conservancy, San Francisco, California. 106 pages + appendices. Available at: http://conserveonline.org/workspaces/mojave/documents/mojave-desert-ecoregional-2010/@@view.html.

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project basis. However, uncoordinated mitigation requirements for individual projects can limit their success; for example, two projects that require translocation of displaced desert tortoises to the same area may result in an overall lower survival rate because the area cannot support the higher density tortoise population. Furthermore, given the relatively small percentage of private land with intact habitat within this region, we have serious reservations about the effectiveness of compensatory mitigation for approved projects to date. For example, compensatory mitigation for the desert tortoise habitat lost at the Ivanpah SEGS is occurring in the Western Mojave Recovery Unit rather than in the Northeastern Mojave Recovery Unit where the projects are located. We do not believe that compensatory mitigation for desert tortoise impacts should occur outside of the recovery unit in which the impact is occurring. A landscape-level assessment will not only allow for an assessment of impacts, it will also result in producing important information for guiding mitigation investment consistent with a landscape-scale conservation strategy. We believe our request will enable BLM to properly manage public lands in the Ivanpah Valley in a sustained yield manner and, in California, provide the necessary level of long-term protection for sensitive resources within the California Desert Conservation Area, both of which are requirements of FLPMA. BLM can and should consider other existing regional assessments and conservation plans to provide information for the requested bistate Ivanpah Valley assessment. These include but are not limited to: a First Solar-contracted NatureServe study on the ecological effects of two proposed alternatives for the Stateline solar project in California; a First Solar-contracted U.S. Geological Survey study on desert tortoise connectivity in Nevada; the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in California; the ongoing revision of the Las Vegas Resource Management Plan in Nevada; the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan; the BLM’s Rapid Ecoregional Assessment for the Mojave Basin and Range region; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) study on priority linkages for Mojave desert tortoise critical habitat and recovery units. There is a critical gap in the application of the above information to decisions regarding conservation and development in the Ivanpah Valley as a whole. We believe that the BLM can consolidate and use the above-referenced information to inform decisions to ensure adequate habitat conservation and self-sustaining populations of desert tortoise and other sensitive species in the Ivanpah Valley. Additionally, the BLM has taken a positive step in recognizing the importance of the Ivanpah Valley as wildlife habitat by removing all further consideration for solar development within the variance process, and acknowledging portions of the Ivanpah Valley meet area of critical environmental concern relevance and importance criteria for Agassiz’s desert tortoise and White-margined penstemon. The very values intended to be protected through this action could be compromised through projects already approved, under application, or being permitted through other federal, state, or county agencies. For these reasons, it is critical that the BLM immediately develop and implement a landscapelevel conservation assessment, and that permitting for projects is placed on hold until such a plan is completed. By requiring completion of this kind of comprehensive planning before moving forward with the permitting of any individual projects, the federal agencies can ensure that future

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development in the Ivanpah Valley will proceed consistent with the BLM’s duty to protect and conserve the Valley’s wildlife and natural resources. We are requesting by this letter the opportunity to discuss this important issue with you in person and look forward to working with your staff to schedule a meeting.

Kim Delfino California Program Director Defenders of Wildlife

Helen O’Shea Director, Western Renewable Energy Natural Resources Defense Council

Ileene Anderson Biologist/Public Lands Desert Director Center for Biological Diversity

Sarah Friedman Senior Representative, Beyond Coal Campaign Sierra Club

David Lamfrom Senior Desert Program Manager National Parks Conservation Association

Greg Suba Conservation Director California Native Plant Society

Garry George Renewable Energy Project Director Audubon California

Laura Crane Director, California Renewable Energy Initiative The Nature Conservancy

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