Long-term Fencing Goal Completed at
Harper Lake Road
In December of 2009 the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee (DTPC) accomplished the long-term goal of completing the installation of desert tortoise exclusion fencing along Harper Lake Road in San Bernardino County, California. The completion of the Harper Lake Road Fencing Project is the result of a successful multi-agency effort to ensure compliance of mitigation conditions under federal and state permits.
Decades before the current land rush for renewable energy siting, of which we’ve heard so much over recent months, Solar Electric Generating Systems (SEGS) had been granted approval to build three separately owned facilities making up nine solar fields in the western Mojave Desert. One of these facilities, composed of SEGS VIII and IX, was built at Harper Dry Lake, north of Highway 58, between Kramer Junction and Barstow, California. This site, the largest solar power plant in the world, was only accessible via Harper Lake Road. The projects were certified in 1989 and 1990 by all of the major resource agencies involved in the permitting of energy projects (i.e. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Bureau of Land Management). The agencies had an interest in strict compliance under mitigation commitments for these solar projects which included the installation of protective fencing along Harper Lake Road and the construction of wildlife culverts to allow the safe passage of animals under the road which would have increased traffic due to the construction and maintenance of SEGS VIII and IX.
Five years after the construction of the solar facilities, mitigation measures had not been implemented. After the SEGS VIII & IX solar plants were constructed, the owners of the facility undertook a financial reorganization that may have resulted in default of permit conditions important for the protection of the desert tortoise and its habitat. Other reason cited for non-compliance with required implementation was the difficulty of tracking down and working with numerous private land owners to obtain permission to fence their properties. In 1995, the DTPC working with appropriate agencies, assumed mitigation responsibilities to protect local desert tortoise population. The DTPC’s assumption of fencing and monitoring duties demonstrated the need for non-governmental organizations to collaborate with federal and state agencies in permitting decisions. But for the DTPC’s role in fencing and monitoringHarper Lake Road, the road and traffic impacts associated with the new solar plants would not have been adequately mitigated.
Goals and Accomplishments
The DTPC achieved three major goals a tHarper Lake Road. First, by conducting three years of monitoring of wildlife/road interactions, the DTPC developed an understanding of the use of road culverts which portions of the road were most frequently used for wildlife crossings. Based on monitoring data, the DTPC constructed a wildlife culvert at the location most frequently used by wildlife to cross Harper Lake Road. Next, the DTPC constructed tortoise-proof fencing as well as specially designed tortoise-proof gates which facilitated both protection for the tortoise and respect for private property owner’s rights to access their land. The DTPC’s ability to complete the fencing project was enabled by a road encroachment permit issued by the San Bernardino County Department of Transportation. The encroachment permit was not only a practical solution to fencing areas where private owners were unwilling to grant an easement, but also a means to involve local government planning departments in the overall conservation goals of the project. Often times, county and city governments are not actively involved in furthering federal and state environmental permits conditions. By involving San Bernardino County, the DTPC’s creative use of the road encroachment permit for environmental protection may serve as a model for involving local government jurisdictions in environmental protection activities.
The implementation of this project occurred in four phases between 1997 and 2009 and included: conducting initial and ongoing monitoring of wildlife; the construction of a wildlife culvert in 2004; and three phases of desert tortoise exclusion fencing installation and gate construction (1997, 1999, and 2009) along the eastern and western sides of Harper Lake Road for a total project area of almost 12 linear miles!
Special thanks to the DTPC Board of Trustees, Mr. Jun Lee DTPC Land Acquisition Specialist, Marc Sazaki and Steve Munro of the California Energy Commission, Ray Bransfield of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Tom Egan of the Bureau of Land Management’s Cadastral Survey and Barstow Resource Office, Becky Jones and Tonya Moore of the California Department of Fish and Game, Mark Bratton USFWS Authorized Biologist, Donald Bowman of the San Bernardino County Department of Transportation, Sun Coast Advisors, Golden State Fence, Our Valley Fence Company, and Merrell Johnson Engineering.
The Current Situation
The completion of this project could not have come at a better time to adequately protect the desert tortoise. The Abengoa Mojave Solar project proposed to be constructed on private land just south of the existing SEGS VIII and IX is expected to be in operation by 2013. Plant construction alone will dramatically increase the use ofHarper Lake Roadas 1,200 construction jobs are expected to be generated in the short term. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Harper Lake Road on March 22, 2010 and toured the existing SEGS facility “now owned by NextEra” calling it a prime example of the future of renewable energy production for the nation.
The DTPC considers Harper Lake Road to be a story of successful partnerships and hopes this project serves as an example of long-term dedication to the preservation of the desert tortoise.
Article from Tortoise Tracks, Spring 2010