Pleistocene Park

I’ve written about the Buffalo Commons (here & here), now the concept has jumped the pond to the Old World (or maybe it really originated there). The Dutch, at Oostvaardersplassen (featured in a New Yorker Magazine article that inspired this post) have attempted to create a simulacrum landscape of the 13,000 years-ago Pleistocene on a reclaimed polder (circa 1968). This is not Ye Olde La Brea Tar Pits, but a living landscape populated by proxy megafauna.

The Rewilding Europe Project has established five sites in 2010: Danube Delta, Eastern Carpathians, Southern Carpathians, Velebit and Western Iberia. Projects elsewhere include, Spain’s Campanarios de Azaba  to their border with Portugal, Lake Pape in Latvia, the Pleistocene Park in far-eastern Siberia aims to restore the Mammoth Steppe Ecosystem (they are attempting to clone woolly mammoths with Korean scientists), and further-a-field there is a tortoise reintroduction program on Mascarene Islands near Madagascar.

Oostvaardensplassen

Oostvaardensplassen [OVP] is now inhabited with proxy animals to those long extinct, Heck cattle (proxy for Aurochs) from Germany were introduced in 1983, Konik horses (for tarpans) from Poland in 1984, and Red Deer from Scottland in the 1990s). (Why not European Bison?) Birds and variety of smaller mammals (like foxes and muskrats) colonized the site on their own. But OVP is not wilderness, but a managed parkland, where dying animals are euthanized ’10–20% of the large herbivores in the park die from natural causes or are killed by humans’. There is no attempt at bringing back apex predators proxies for Dire Wolves, Saber-Tooth Tigers, Wooly Mammoths, or European Lions of yore that are really needed to re-establish a healthy ecosystem. Modern Grey Wolves are expected to reach the area in a few decades though.

Another interesting aspect to the location is that during the Pleistocene, it was dry land (see below) and became underwater only after the end of the last ice age. One other distinction of this project is that the site was not abandoned or depopulated, but was intended to be an industrial development before the spontaneous colonization by wildlife inspired the park.

Map of the North Sea with Holocene shorelines – Oostvaardersplassen is just to the left of the key for 8700 yr on the Southeastern shore of the Markemeer

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Sublime Solar Farm

Photographer Jamey Stillings documents the sublime of Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System for Wired.

Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com


Aerial view of Solar Field One at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) on October 27, 2012. Photo shows completed tower construction and heliostat (pairs of mirrors) installation. Mojave Desert, CA

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 8.04.10 PM

Some of his photos evoking the Nazca lines or Michael Heizer’s Complex – this is quite the documentation of the infrastructural sublime.

Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com

Clark Mountain and ground work for future power block of Solar Field One. January 14, 2011.

View north of Ivanpah Solar showing all three solar fields with heliostat installation complete in Solar Field One in the foreground. October 27, 2012.

There is a remarkable amount of intact vegetation beneath the heliostats – making me wonder if it is possible to design a low-impact solar farm?

Installed heliostats in Solar Field One and adjacent section of undisturbed desert terrain of the site’s alluvial fan. January 6, 2012.

Installed heliostats in “safe” or resting position. June 2, 2012

Workers install a heliostat on a pylon in Solar Field One. June 4, 2012.

More of Jamey Stillings pics at Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com. and Stillings’ own website.

The dark side of solar

The math isn’t adding up for the local economics of solar farms as reported by the LAtimes.

BrightSource Energy’s $2.7-billion Hidden Hills solar power plant in Inyo County was  first estimated to boost the County;s general fund 17%. But this didn’t factor in the federal solar tax exclusion on property. Fewer than 10 local workers get permanent jobs — just 5% of the construction jobs would be filled by county residents, who are likely to spend their money in Nevada – not Inyo County’s population center in Owens Valley. Improvements to public infrastructure like roads would cost the county $11 million to $12 million. Then in perpetuity would be  nearly $2 million a year in additional public safety and other services paid by tax payers. This reality contrasts with the rosy picture painted by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, who promised 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent positions, generating wages of nearly $550 million over the life of the project contributing more than $300 million in local and state tax revenues. Not much discussion of the ecological side in the article beyond the expected higher property values and decreased public access to land as habitat mitigation areas are cordoned off.

“We’ve got county residents living in cargo containers near the solar site, seniors living in trailer parks on fixed incomes — they all manage to pay their 1% property tax fee,” said Kevin Carunchio, the county’s administrative official. “Nobody is outright against these projects on ideological grounds or land-use principles. We don’t think we should have to bear the cost for energy that is being exported to metropolitan areas.”

Then there is the visual impacts:

“Residents will live as close as 600 feet from a heliostat field replete with approximately 170,000 mirrors encircling two 750-foot towers as their neighbor.”

BrightSource maintained that the power plant would not create a significant visual impact. Instead the project has been pitched as a potential tourist attraction, with its twin 70-story towers envisioned as a magnet drawing sightseers to the Pahrump Valley.

Carunchio — who is open to most plans to bring attention to the region — is skeptical.

“I can’t believe that people will drive the long way to Death Valley just to look at the Eye of Mordor,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Mojave:

“Southern California is going to become the home to the state’s ability to meet its solar goals,” said Gerry Newcombe, public works director for San Bernardino County. “That’s great, but where are the benefits to the county?”

in San Bernadino County, the $2.2-billion Ivanpah solar project will be proving a $377,000 annual payment to the county in lieu of taxes. This doesn’t cover the public safety costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to “crush” opponents of solar projects. At the launch of a solar farm near Sacramento, the governor pledged: “It’s not easy. There are gonna be screw-ups. There are gonna be bankruptcies. There’ll be indictments and there’ll be deaths. But we’re gonna keep going — and nothing’s gonna stop me.” …

“The solar companies are the beneficiaries of huge government loans, tax credits and, most critically for me, property tax exemptions, at the expense of taxpayers,” said [Riverside] county Supervisor John Benoit, referring to a variety of taxpayer-supported loans and grants available to large solar projects as part of the Obama administration’s renewable energy initiative. “I came to the conclusion that my taxpayers need to get something back.”

Solar development isn’t looking as bright as it was – but just contrast this with permanent destruction of groundwater, nearby resident’s health, and green house gas emissions of fracking and the negative impacts of solar still make it the best energy source (other than conservation) we have.  The best place for solar is on roofs and disturbed lands – not intact desert habitat There is a place for large utility scale solar energy development, but it needs to be done wisely, not quickly.

Solar power plants burden counties that host them – latimes.com.

Aqueduct Futures Workshop – October 15th

The Owens Valley community is invited to a free public design workshop, 6-9pm on October 15th at the Methodist Center, 205 North Fowler Street, Bishop, California 93514.

This workshop will explore designing resilience and adaptation into the landscape of Owens Valley with California State Polytechic University Pomona Landscape Architecture students. The Landscape Architecture students will be visiting Owens Valley on a field trip as they learn about designing large-scale sustainable infrastructure systems as part of the Cal Poly Pomona’s Aqueduct Futures Project.

Please RSVP to help us plan the event: http://owensvalleyfutures.eventbrite.com/

Eventbrite - Owens Valley Design Workshop

If you wish to participate in the resource fair, please email: aqueduct@csupomona.edu


Press Release

Solar Southwest

The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Solar PEIS) from by the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy’s EERE have just issued the final report for public comments that identifies 17 zones covering 445 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert appropriate for fast-tracking large-scale industrial solar energy development along with the mitigation strategies, policies and regulations. If all the sites get developed, they could generate 24,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity by 2030. (But what about their water consumption?)

Original PDF [18mb] here

 As significant as defining appropriate sites for development, the Solar PEIS defines exclusion areas like the Ivanpah Valley on the CA/NV border where BrightSource Energy is already building two projects.

Thirty-two categories of lands are proposed for exclusion from solar development through the Final Solar PEIS (see Final Solar PEIS, Chapter 2). The exclusions proposed include (1) explicit exclusions that will be delineated in the Solar PEIS ROD by a land base that would not change except by future land use plan amendment; and (2) implicit exclusions that will be defined in the Solar PEIS ROD by the presence or absence of a specific resource or condition where the land base may change over time (e.g., critical habitat). Implicit exclusions will be determined at the time of application for individual solar ROWs, and based on information in applicable land use plans as amended, Species’ Recovery Plans, or similar planning or guidance documents, and verified by site-specific information as necessary.

For the purposes of the Solar PEIS and its associated NEPA analysis, the BLM has mapped and estimated the acreage for proposed exclusions in the aggregate based on best available existing information. Data were available to map the following exclusion categories:

  1. BLM-administered lands where development is prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation or Executive Order (i.e., lands in the National Landscape Conservation System [NLCS]),
  2. Lands having slopes greater than 5%,
  3. Lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2/day,
  4. BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,
  5. Critical habitat for USFWS designated threatened and endangered species,
  6. BLM Right-of-Way Exclusion and Avoidance Areas,
  7. BLM No Surface Occupancy Areas,
  8. Special Recreation Management Areas (note these were not excluded in the State of Nevada or in a portion of the Yuma East SRMA in Arizona), and
  9. Greater sage-grouse habitat in California, Nevada, and Utah; Gunnison’s sage-grouse habitat in Utah; and Desert Wildlife Management Areas, Flat Tailed Horned Lizard habitat, and Mojave Ground Squirrel habitat in California.

As desert tortoises are the charismatic megafauna most impacted by solar farms and a favorite topic of infrascape design, I couldn’t resist sharing this picture accompanying the LATimes article on the PEIS:

Mark Boster/LAtimes

US Wildfires 2012

Map of the day

Fires across the United States, and their relative intensity, from 2001 through July 9, 2012.
CREDIT: John Nelson, IDV Solutions.

Dazzling Map Reveals Rising Menace of US Fires ǀ Wildfires 2012 | OurAmazingPlanet.com

The data, provided by two NASA satellites, were “about two mouse clicks away,” said John Nelson, the map’s maker, and the user experience and mapping manager for IDV Solutions, a Lansing, Mich., data-visualization company.

Nelson also created a map of 100 years of earthquakes:

Earthquakes since 1898

Sources:

Wildfires 2012 | OurAmazingPlanet.com.

and Earthquake Map

Buffalo Commons II

The NYTimes discusses the impacts of 71 purebred Bison returning to the great plains of Montana after a 140 year absence. American Prairie Reserve and the Nation Wildlife Federation are the groups behind this effort.

But with several groups now navigating a complex and contentious path to return bison to these plains, agribusiness is fighting back. Many farmers and ranchers fear that bison, particularly those from Yellowstone, might be mismanaged and damage private property, and worry that they would compete for grass with their own herds…

“Within this sea of agriculture there is room for small islands of conservation,” said Sean Gerrity, president of the American Prairie Reserve, the charity that brought the group of genetically pure bison back to a pasture just north of the refuge…

The bison debate has dredged up old tensions between tribes and their neighbors. Before Ms. Greybull, a Sioux, spoke in favor of the animals last fall at a fractious meeting in Glasgow, dozens of farmers and ranchers walked out in protest…

“I took a lot of arrows for this, but it was the right thing to do,” Mr. Schweitzer said. “If you want to get into a fistfight in Montana, go into a bar and share your opinion about bison or wolves.”

See also: Buffalo Commons I