High Noon for the Desert Tortoise?

                                  DESERT TORTOISE

Back in May we reported on the threat posed to the highly endangered desert tortoise by the as yet uncompleted Ivanpah solar facility in the eastern Mojave. Construction had been halted on April 15 after workers at the site found more tortoises than previously estimated – 59 as opposed to 25. The upshot? More than 3,000 desert tortoises would be disturbed and as many as 700 young ones killed by what most had hoped would a potent symbol of green technology.

After mulling over the issue, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on June 10 gave project developers BriteSource Energy Co. the green light to resume construction on the site, about five miles from the Nevada border.

As the AP reports,

[W]ildlife officials determined the $2 billion project will not jeopardize the threatened tortoise…

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a new assessment, known as a Biological Opinion, for moving the tortoises, as well as new ways to protect them from predators and increased monitoring and fending

“This new Biological Opinion allows the project to move forward without jeopardizing the tortoise, taking into account the higher number of animals found,” BLM-California Acting State Director Peter Ditton said.

“We worked closely with the Fish and Wildlife service throughout the development of this new BO and will continue to work together to monitor construction.”

Sounds like small consolation to the slow and steady desert dweller. Or maybe it’s an offer it can’t refuse. As reported in May, biologists estimate that up to 50 percent of tortoises die after being moved, many of them while struggling to return home. If the tortoise doesn’t have any more tricks up its carapace in its showdown with the Giant Solar Power Company, it could be in for a long ride. Especially since BriteSource has not come alone to this gunfight. The company claims the operation will provide enough electricity for 140,000 homes at a time when California is trying to cut back its consumption of fossil fuels.

Even more, the Obama administration – always an enthusiastic backer of the project – has decided to make it personal. Earlier today, Vice President Joe Biden called out the tortoise in an email to constituents, identifying a government website dedicated to the vulnerable animal as a symbol of public waste.

“I’m sure it’s a wonderful species, but we can’t afford to have a standalone site devoted to every member of the animal kingdom…This kind of waste is unacceptable…it’s a no brainer to stop spending taxpayer dollars on things that benefit nobody.:

Putting aside that the Vice President is creating an argument where none exists (no one is asking for a Noah’s ark of government websites dedicated to every organism on planet Earth), it seems the only no brainer here is the person that insists no one benefits from a healthy, balanced environment.

But with the self proclaimed “new sheriff in town” reaching for his six shooter, it may be time, Mr. Tortoise, to batten down the hatches, and pray that shell of yours is bullet proof.

– James Myers