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Spring 2010

How Habitat Conservationists Can Help

The Nevada Wilderness
Craft the Renewable Energy Future Project is a catalyst for
As the Obama Administration pursues a new energy future on Western public lands, wildlife habitat conservation,
there’s a vigorous debate going on about the value of utility-scale projects on public
wilderness preservation, and
lands. Public lands energy projects—lots of them in short order—are critical to stem
what soon will be irreversible damage from climate change. This irreversible damage, smart development
proponents say, will be far worse for the species and habitats of Nevada’s deserts than will of renewable energy.
the effects of the development footprint.
Opponents say we shouldn’t sacrifice the desert for a haphazard approach to energy
development. The “land rush” caused by thousands of new renewable energy develop-
ment permit requests creates a false sense of solving the problem; sacrificing biodiversity
to solve a puzzle without all the pieces on the table makes no sense.
As the Quakers like to say, “everyone owns a piece of the truth.”
At NWP, we recognize that millions of acres of public land could be developed for renew-
able energy tomorrow without making a dent in climate change if there isn’t a much
broader, all-encompassing strategy to deal with climate change. This includes addressing
massive changes in efficiency standards and our consumption patterns. Without an “all
hands on deck” approach, public lands will be sacrificed for a hodge-podge solution to a
problem that requires bigger thinking.
We also know this: Because of cost certainty and the need for short term (<10 years) prog-
ress in the face of climate change, public lands that people care about are going to be
developed with solar, wind and geothermal plants. There’s a tendency in the conservation
community to use legitimate concerns about these projects as excuses for inaction. If we
don’t have all the information about a project’s technology and impact on the land, how
can we make judgments about it? At NWP, we’re as susceptible to this thinking as anyone
else. And this recognition has helped us understand that as public lands’ conservation
leaders, we have a responsibility to devise solutions.
That’s why we’re engaging developers and other stakeholders to identify opportunities
for “smart from the start” energy projects that provide additional land protections as
well as money for habitat restoration and land acquisition. Not every project will fit the
Rock art in Nye County.
“smart from the start” criteria. Some will be what we’ve fondly taken to calling just plain Photo by Tyler Roemer
dumb from the get-go.
But we hope to have enough success so that administrative and legislative opportuni-
ties become apparent when there is a strong mutual desire between conservationists and
industry to collaborate on smart development. We’ve been clamoring for a new energy
future for 40 years. That future is here, the door is open, and we’re barrelin’ through.
Inside, you’ll read about how we’re engaging renewable energy projects in Nevada on
public lands through this “smart from the start” lens. A particular focus for us will be east-
ern Nevada’s SWIP transmission line, called the backbone of Nevada’s renewable energy
future by one of its architects, Senator Harry Reid. And we highlight the work and world-
view of one of our favorite Nevada conservation legends, Terri Robertson. Thanks for help-
ing make it all possible, and feel free to write or call us.

John Wallin, Wilson’s warblers winter in the tropics and

Director, Nevada Wilderness Project migrate to Nevada--and well beyond--to breed.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife
The Challenge
Pick up a newspaper, read a blog or tune in it the landscape damage, erosion and trash
to a news program and barely 10 minutes that comes with pioneered roads.
seems to pass before the focus shifts to a The SWIP transmission line will also carry
new renewable energy project coming to the very kind of “clean” energy we have
Nevada. This is exciting—and daunting. been clamoring for—energy generated by
Exciting because of the variety of projects solar, wind, biomass and geothermal facili-
being discussed and their economic and ties. It represents, Harry Reid said at a news
environmental promise. Daunting because conference in January, “the beginning of a
of the immense complexity of who, what, great new wave of power generation in our
where, when and how to build them. country[…”] Reid said, “This is something a
Back in the 80s, for example, private indus- lot of people have only dreamed about. We
try and government began forging plans hear about a smart grid, we hear about a
to build a power transmission line to move super-highway to transmit electricity. This
energy from the upper Midwest across is it. To have renewable energy created,
Idaho, south through Nevada to Las Vegas and to have a place it can go and move,
and points beyond. Called the Southwest that’s what we’re doing here.” (Las Vegas
Intertie Project—or SWIP line—it will Review-Journal, Jan. 12, 2010)
extend approximately 500 miles across
How can we reap the economic, environ-
Idaho and Nevada, much of it through miles
mental and national security benefits of
of natural landscapes and wildlife habitat.
these large-scale renewable energy and
We know the transmission line will spell transmission projects without destroying
the demise of some breeding grounds for the natural beauty of our public lands?
sage grouse and disrupt travel corridors for
What is the point of stemming climate
large mammals such as deer and bighorn
change with clean energy development if
sheep. The line’s own maintenance roads
we create more damage to wildlife habitats
will invite off-road vehicle use into previ-
in the process?
ously untrammeled areas—and bring with

Solar One, a pilot solar-thermal project in the Mojave just east of Barstow, CA (below), is similar to
projects being proposed for construction in Nevada. Construction of the SWIP transmission line will
begin before the end of the year. (Photo by Jim Boone,; map by Kristie Connolly).
u t i on s nomy
. . .there's a great opportunity for business and Sol Eco
environmental interests to come together over
renewable energy. It's a natural partnership, linked by a
common goal of attacking climate change. [The Nevada
Wilderness Project] right that “smart from the start" is
the key to the future economy.”
(Las Vegas Review Journal columnist Geoff Schumacher)

va s

tive Gre
“Our new, responsible energy policy recognizes the Partnersh en Jobs
relationship between energy, the environment, and our
economy. The growth of clean energy can lead to the
growth of our economy.”
(President Obama, announcing a $3.4 billion investment of
stimulus funds to modernize the electric grid.)

a te Change life Habitat

im ild
“Preserving our natural resources has become a passion Cl W
that was instilled in me by my father and my grand-
father ...we realize that across North America, people are
becoming more aware of the need for protecting and
preserving habitat and wildlife resources.”
(NASCAR great Ward Burton)

ot au


“Projected climate change poses a serious threat to To tifu s

America’s national security. The predicted effects o La t e To Act l Landscape
include drought, flooding, sea level rise, retreating
glaciers, habitat shifts, and the increased spread of
life-threatening diseases. These conditions have the
potential to disrupt our way of life and to force changes
in the way we keep ourselves safe and secure.”
(Report on National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,
al Security
CNA Military Advisory Board, April 2007) ion

“Unless we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by

2050, experts say global climate change will have a
devastating impact. . . But with this challenge comes
incredible opportunity – to create jobs, renew
communities, and reduce the harmful emissions that

affect our health and the health of our environment.

gy e
(Clinton Climate Initiative) Ind ependenc

NWP’s “No hand-wringing” Approach

We think this graphic—made with the help of our friends at mesh- • The scope and number of proposed renewable energy projects—gets to the essence of how we view the develop- across the West strains our capacity to engage. For example, as
ment of renewable energy on public lands. of December 2009, Nevada alone had 88 wind and solar permit
We searched for an approach that is pragmatic and solution-ori- applications covering 575,010 acres. Adding geothermal, the
ented, and it began with these observations: total comes to 189 permit applications covering 969,774 acres.

• The climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are linked. Solv- • While only a fraction of this acreage is likely to be developed, it
is clear that impacts from this energy transformation are inevi-
ing one should not exacerbate the other. Our approach rec-
table and that some proposed locations for renewable energy
ognizes that to gain the benefits of renewable energy, there is
are better than others, and some are simply inappropriate.
no way around the fact that renewable energy generation and
transmission will negatively impact some lands that people • This is a new and difficult framework for the environmental
care deeply about. community because it acknowledges that there inevitably
will be some land-disturbing activities necessary to achieve
• Nevada is being transformed by renewable energy develop-
the greater-good benefits associated with renewable energy
ment. This includes expansion of transmission infrastructure as
a means of bringing large-scale renewables projects to market.
• While conservationists applaud the shift to renewable energy, • The Nevada Wilderness Project sees an immediate opportu-
nity to proactively engage in “smart from the start” develop-
the potential for such rapid growth has led to legitimate calls
ment of the West’s renewable energy resources.
for caution.
We See a Once-in-a-100-year Opportunity
If we apply our “smart from the start” concept to the SWIP trans-
mission line, for example, we see several opportunities emerge.
A. Site the SWIP line and other renewable projects in places that
will have the least negative impacts on the land and wildlife.
With our habitat expertise we can provide solutions to some
of the problems of energy development. For example, we’re
engaged in work with conservation partners such as the Idaho
Conservation League, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and
the company building the SWIP line to share information and
identify opportunities to avoid key sage grouse habitats. We
are also working toward early problem identification and miti-
gation opportunities for feeder projects that will eventually
populate the SWIP corridor.
B. As part of the SWIP and other renewable energy project devel-
opment, pass legislation that protects other public lands in
our state as Wilderness and National Conservation Area.
In some cases, there may be opportunities to gain legal des-
ignations for some of Nevada’s very best habitat—protection
that can outweigh the losses due to development.
C. Companies pay a conservation royalty or a financial off-set on
their development projects.
In addition to the SWIP transmission line itself, energy compa-
nies have proposed building large-scale solar plants along the
line. This is a logical and reasonable course of action. NWP will
pursue formation of a leasing or royalty structure where the
money paid by the energy companies will be used for regional
conservation projects that sportsmen, ranchers and conserva-
tionists in Nevada agree on—not put that money back into
the general treasury. These projects will range from restoring
habitat in other locations, purchasing private land from will-
ing sellers that protect wildlife corridors, to funding research
through NDOW or the University of Nevada.
We invite you to be involved in this ”smart from the start” process.
Please read our website,, and feel free to call
us with your suggestions or questions. As these projects begin to
unfold, we will be calling on you for your support and participation.

Spring comes early to the Mojave (left), also home to many fish species
found nowhere else in the world, such as this Ash Meadows pupfish.
(Photos by Mackenzie Banta and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service). Near the
Jarbidge Wilderness in northern Nevada, one-year-old Ginnie and some
spring flowers brighten the landscape. (photo by Kristie Connolly)
Terri Takes on Gold Butte Terri Roberston, Friends of Gold
Butte. Photo by Antioco Carrillo
When Terri Robertson was born in 1944, her
hometown of Las Vegas had a population of
9,000. Driving to Red Rock Canyon seemed
to take hours, but it was one of her family’s
favorite destinations. Her dad took her to this
remote place frequently as a child and, soon
enough, he and Terri were working together
to protect Red Rock Canyon from development. Lucky for Neva-
dans (and the whole world), they were successful back in 1970.
Terri and her fellow Red Rock activists just celebrated a 40-year
reunion, but she is far from done. Gold Butte, often referred to as
“Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon puzzle,” is next on her list of
beloved wild places she intends to help protect.
Q: You had a 31-year career with the public schools in Las
Vegas and retired last year. What made you decide to take
on this brand new job with NWP’s sister organization Friends
of Gold Butte?
While I had 31 years with the school district, my environmental
There is an old saying: you only lose if you give up. The moun-
work began in my late 20s. So I have worked many more years
tain ranges and desert valleys and washes that I have worked
preserving Nevada history and wildlands than I dedicated to the
to save are an important part of my life. They are--each of
district. This position offered me the opportunity to become
them--rooms in my earthly home. Family memories abound
part of a great family of people dedicated to and working
in each one, and the thought of having these places lost has
toward my goal of the Gold Butte NCA with Wilderness. Nancy
kept me going.
Hall [Friends’ of Gold Butte’s President] and I have been working
side by side for many years and now she “be” my boss. I am lucky to have children and grandchildren who have all
been at my side in one way or another all these years. Whether
Q: A big part of your job is taking groups out to see Gold
it has been helping with petitions, making copies, sealing
Butte - many of them for the first time. Why do you think this
envelopes and licking stamps (all things done in the old days),
is important?
to the technical experience of grandchildren who assist me at
I always say, “Gold Butte speaks for herself.” You can talk all the computer today, they have spent a lot of time at my side
you want and show all of the greatest pictures in the world, saving “Grandma’s Special Places.”
but seeing Gold Butte up close and personal is truly what
Q: We’re working to see Gold Butte protected as a National
binds people to our mission. When their feet hit the ground,
Conservation Area and Wilderness. What do you say to people
and the view through their own eyes sets their hearts and
who think a Wilderness designation is the government trying
souls in motion, then and only then can they truly commence
to “fence out the public” - a common argument we hear?
their love affair with Gold Butte.
I think it is important to get the true message out, and of
Q: You know from your experience working to protect Red
course, the truth is that wilderness does not “lock” the pub-
Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon, too, that campaigning for
lic out nor is wilderness surrounded by fences. I like to ask
Wilderness and National Conservation Area can be a long,
people... if they go to Red Rock, does the wilderness up there
slow and involved process. What keeps you motivated?
bother them? If they go to Mt. Charleston, does the wilder-
ness bother them there? I then ask if they
have ever seen fences around large areas
with signs that say “Wilderness - stay out?”
Of course not!
After this beginning to a conversation, I’m
usually able to convey the real message
about wilderness. That it’s a place where
hunters can hunt, horseback riders can ride,
campers can camp. And how wilderness is
needed to provide “forever homes” for our
nature neighbors and to preserve for all
humankind areas for solitude and peace, to
mend ourselves and fill our souls.

Learn more about Gold Butte on our website,
and please visit the Friends of Gold Butte
Mule deer at sunset. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife
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Curious about Nevada’s

“fast-track” renewable Find us in the digital soup:
energy projects?
Visit our website, www.wildne-, and click on the tab
labelled “Fast-Track.” You’ll find
loads of information about each Or real humans:
project (type of energy, size, developer, location), detailed maps,
8550 White Fir Street, Reno, NV 89523
a google earth fly-over tour of the projects, news articles, photos
Ph: 775-746-7851
and more. We’ll be up-dating this section regularly as new infor-
mation becomes available.

Tel: 775.746.7851
Reno, NV 89523
8550 White Fir Street

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