Plan for California Desert balances conservation and renewable energy

Amargosa River (CA).

Bob Wick, BLM.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) plan for the California desert, released today, could have lasting benefits for both conservation and renewable energy.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) was initiated to find appropriate places for development—and just as important—those that are not. A win-win for conservation and clean energy, the plan addresses climate change by designating areas where renewable energy development may be permitted while also designating protected areas in the most sensitive places of the California desert. 

Today the BLM released its portion of the plan, which covers nearly 10 million acres of federal land. The plan marks a milestone in the effort to protect critical natural resources and wildlife habitat, while identifying appropriately-sited development areas for renewable energy projects in the California desert.

Broad public input and unprecedented collaboration between state and federal agencies has resulted in a landscape-level plan that balances the many values of the California desert.

Meeting the challenge in the California desert

Bustling with life, culture and history, California’s desert treasures are the soul of the American West. The rugged peaks and wide-open valleys offer world class recreational and scenic opportunities, and they are home to an array of incredible species of plants and animals. These are places that need to be protected for future generations.

Photo: Silurian Valley (CA) by Mason Cummings.

At the same time, the California desert contains some of the best solar resources in the world, and offers opportunities to transition away from polluting forms of energy and toward a clean energy future. These opportunities can help fulfill both federal and state commitments to developing renewable energy in order to meet the growing challenges of climate change.

The two opportunities of conservation and renewable energy development are not incompatible—with collaborative planning and a balanced approach, we can both protect the special and rare places in the California desert and create a brighter future for renewable energy.

Balancing conservation with renewable energy

Many areas within the California desert are nationally significant lands recognized for their cultural, ecological and scientific value. The BLM is showing leadership in protecting this spectacular collection of American landscapes by identifying valuable areas for protection.

Designating development focus areas for renewable energy is another integral part of the DRECP. The process of identifying these areas helps ensure that wildlands get needed protections while energy projects are built in the most appropriate places.

This helps the BLM identify the most appropriate places for solar, wind and geothermal development to help California meet its clean energy needs while protecting desert treasures where visitors can enjoy opportunities to experience the beauty, history and adventure of the American West.

Within the plan area, the DRECP will:

  1. Preserve, restore and enhance natural communities and ecosystems and conserve sensitive species.
  2. Protect and enhance other resources and values on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered lands, including cultural resources, recreation opportunities, visual landscapes, etc.
  3. Identify appropriate areas for the siting of utility-scale renewable energy projects.
  4. Streamline environmental review and permitting for projects sited in these areas.

The opportunity ahead for the California desert

The collaborative effort of the DRECP lays a solid foundation for clean energy development on public lands while also recognizing that further planning is needed on private lands. A final plan that affects only public lands is expected to be released in early 2016.

Agencies, organizations and local communities should continue to work together to complete a successful plan to protect special landscapes in the California desert while also designating appropriate areas for renewable energy that will best serve the region and help meet California’s ambitious clean energy needs.

Photo gallery: Explore some of the newly designated conservation lands

Amargosa River. Credit: Bob Wick, BLM.

Silurian Valley. Credit: John Dittli.

Thousand Palms Oasis. Credit: John Dittli.

Panamint Valley. Credit: Mason Cummings.

Chuckwalla Bench. Credit: Sam Roberts.

Fossil Falls. Credit: John Dittli.

Trona Pinnacles. Credit: Mason Cummings.

Rainbow Basin. Credit: Bob Wick, BLM.