Defending the Desert

A 501(c)(3) Non-profit organization





Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands of the desert.

Come visit and experience the great beauty of spring wildflowers, vast open vistas, bird watching trails, and wildlife viewing.





Basin and Range Watch BLOG



























Plenty of Birds Around Crescent Dunes Solar Power Tower

November 3, 2017 - Tonopah NV - The solar flux seen today from the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project was in evidence on the morning of October 30, 2017, although clouds shut the facility down for the afternoon. We hiked around the proposed project site of the massive Sandstone Solar Project--ten more power towers--and noted the diversity and numbers of birds in the area.

We saw over 100 horned larks, a Northern harrier, juvenile red-tailed hawk, a Western meadowlark, a few ravens, and more birds around the solar plant's evaporation ponds: 70 ducks flying around, pintails and possibly buffleheads, as well as 40 gulls, including California gulls and ring-billed gulls. See more photos >>here.

See the article in the Pahrump Valley Times by Daria Sokolova: Glare from proposed Nye solar project raises concerns.

Military Expansion into Desert National Wildlife Refuge: Environmental Review to Start this Winter

November 1, 2017 - Southern Nevada - We have found out through personal communication that the Legislative Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed 300,000 acre expansion of the Nellis Air Force Base will be released on December 8th, 2017. Nellis wants to expand on 220,000 acres of public lands on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada to make a military buffer for increased bombing. Several new roads, runways, towers and additional infrastructure would be built in the refuge and public access would be cut odd. An additional 80,000 acres of BLM land is also being looked at. More background >>here.

Public meetings have been scheduled, but the schedule has still not officially released yet. Here is the schedule:

Jan. 17 - Caliente, NV (Caliente Elementary School)
Jan. 18 - Alamo, NV (Pahranagat Valley High School)
Jan. 23 - Las Vegas (Aliante Casino + Hotel)
Jan. 24 - Beatty, NV (Beatty Community Center)
Jan. 25 - Tonopah, NV (Tonopah Convention Center)

5:00-6:30 pm (open house/comments)
6:30-7:00 pm (USAF presentation)
7:00-9:00 pm (open house/comments)

Comments will not be accepted in a public form. You will have to submit them privately to a court reporter. Information can be viewed here:

Avian-Solar Interactions Symposium (Part 1)

October 26, 2017 - Sacramento CA - Basin and Range Watch attended the August 16 Technical Symposium on Avian-Solar Interactions in Sacramento CA, organized by the Collaborative Working Group of various agencies. Sandra Brewer of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Amedee Brickey of the US Fish and Wildlife Service gave introductions. Karen Smith of Argonne National Laboratory gave a review.


In addition, the solar industry based group, Avian Solar Working Group gave an introduction: Jodie Gless of NextEra Energy, and Aimee Delach of Defenders of Wildlife.

Overview of Avian-Solar Interactions

Wally Erickson of WEST, Inc. gave a talk summarizing some current avian mortality numbers in California and Nevada for Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, Blythe Solar Energy Project, McCoy Solar Project, Silver State South Solar Farm (in Nevada), and California Valley Solar Ranch. A standardized approach to searching for dead carcasses was used, so that 20-45% of the solar arrays were searched, and rows were walked. 25-100% of chainlink fences were driven and searched. We were not clear how often searches were conducted, but Erickson said that for Desert Sunlight Solar Farm the solar field was searched 2, 3, or 4 days per week. For much more on this avian-solar interactions symposium, see >>here.

Palen Solar Photovoltaic Project Back

^The Palen Dunes sand transport corridor which may be threatened by a large fenced 3,500-acre utility-scale solar project. The Palen-McCoy Mountains and wilderness are in the distance.

October 26, 2017 - Riverside County CA - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is set to release a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement with a 45 day comment period, for a proposed 500 megawatt photovoltaic solar power plant near Desert Center, Riverside County, California. The Right-of-Way application area comprises about 4,200 acres, with a proposed project footprint of about 3,400 acres. The proposed project also includes construction of a 6.7-mile single circuit 230 kilovolt generation interconnection (gen-tie) transmission line connecting the project to the Southern California Edison (SCE) Red Bluff Substation. EDF Renewables is seeking to build the project. See the Federal Register notice pdf.

The project site is partially within a sand-transport corridor, and past incarnations of the project have been controversial because of this. The area also has a good population of Mojave fringe-toed lizards. For more of the history of the project and natural area of the desert, see our archives.

BLM and Riverside County will hold a public meeting on the Project DSEIS/SEIR/LUPA on November 14, 2017 from 4 to 6 pm at UCR Palm Desert Center Room B200 located at 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, Palm Desert, CA 92211.

Comment deadline December 10, 2017.

Ruby Mountains Oil and Gas Lease--We Oppose!

October 25, 2017 - Ruby Mountains, Nevada - Basin and Range Watch opposes any energy project that is ill-sited and would cause harm to the natural ecology of a region in the deserts and mountains of the Great Basin of Nevada. A recent slough of poorly placed oil and gas exploratory drilling leases on public lands is simply unacceptable. One region with pending leases is in the Ruby Mountains of northern Nevada, an area comparable to the Sierra Nevada on a small scale, full of glacially-carved U-shaped valleys, and lakes. Lamoille Canyon is a spectacular Great Basin hike. We have hiked here a lot in the past and will post photos of our travels in an upcoming article. The birding and wildlife-viewing of this area is unparelled.

We have joined a coalition of organizations that oppose drilling and fracking in this region.

Please add your support to this coaliton. See the Center for Biological Diversity action alert page here:

See the article in the Nevada Independant.

See also the Elko Daily Free Press article.

Sandstone Solar Project Proposed in Nevada

Solar Reserve

^The Crescent Dunes solar power tower in operation.

October 25, 2017 - Tonopah NV - On September 3 we attended a Nye County Commission meeting in Tonopah, where SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith was in attendance to pitch his proposed Sandstone Solar Energy Project.

This is the preliminary map of the north section of the proposed 22,000 acre Sandstone North Solar Project, which would be up to a 10 tower concentrated solar thermal project located entirely on Bureau of Land Management lands (BLM), although documents obtained by Basin and Range Watch from BLM apparently indicate 8 solar power towers would be located on Variance lands designated under the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision; another two concentrated solar power plants/solar power towers might be in the Miller's Solar Energy Zone to the west of this, in Esmeralda County, Nevada. The map was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). See the map and more about the County Commission meeting >>here.

Yuma Clapper Rail Threat Near Ash Meadows

September 4, 2017 - Amargosa Valley NV - Solar developer First Solar has applied for an Incidental Take Permit with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to possibly kill or injure up to 2 Federally Endangered Yuma clapper rails (Rallus longirostris yumanensis) for their proposed 785 acre Sunshine Valley Solar Project which will be built 8 miles from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Mojave Desert, Nevada. The company is developing a Habitat Conservation Plan for this project with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Different species of rails have been found dead at solar facilities in the deserts. In total, over 185 species of birds have been documented as mortalities for recent large-scale solar facilities in California. The large photovoltaic projects are thought by some to mimic lakes and attract birds which collide with the panels. Above is a map of the project near Ash Meadows. In 2014 taxonomists split the Yumma clapper rail from the clapper rail, and made it a new species, Ridgway's rail (Rallus obsoletus). But US Fish and Wildlife seems to still use the older designation.

See the Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy for the Sunshine Valley Solar Project that Basin and Range Watch obtained by Freedom of Information Act request >>PDF.

Help Stop Remote Nevada Deforestation Project

^Old growth pinyon-juniper woodland in the wild and remote North Egan Range of eastern Nevada is threatened with removal.

August 24, 2017 - Ely, Nevada -The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Ely District is seeking public comments on the Egan and Johnson Basin Restoration Project Preliminary Environmental Assessment. The project location is in both the Egan and Cherry Creek Ranges, located north of Ely, Nevada. Comments are due by Monday, August 28, 2017. While the BLM is calling this "restoration", the reality is that they intend to thin out this native forest on over 84,000 acres. The tree removal treatment methods being considered for this project include hand thinning, chaining, mastication (shredding), whole tree thinning, mulching/chipping, prescribed fire and fuelwood harvest. Treatments would focus primarily on removing pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) from sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities. More >>here.

Tule Wind Project Construction in McCain Valley

August 10, 2017 - Eastern San Diego County CA - The 450 foot turbines are now being delivered for the Tule Wind Project. The 62 turbine project will be located on 12,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in scenic McCain Valley located east of San Diego, California. The project was contested by land owners and conservation organizations over the location and the Bureau of Land Management did not listen. McCain Valley will no longer be scenic and happens to be very important for raptors. In fact, the Tule Wind Project is within the range of the California Condor. You can monitor the destruction yourself by checking the BLM's compliance monitoring web site for the project. These web sites are considered mitigation for the destruction:

Crescent Dunes Solar Power Tower Back Online After 8 Month Repairs

July 30, 2017 - Tonopah NV - We noticed that the glowing sun-like light was brilliantly glowing again atop the 700-foot power tower out in the remote desert of central Nevada. Solar Reserve finally flipped the switch back on to their utlity-scale solar thermal power plant, which has molten salt tanks to store excess electricity generated after dark. Sources tell us the intense heat of this solar power plant--at a scale never attempted before--presented problems for pipes and welds. Vibrations of molten salt flowing through the pipes caused problems.

We have concerns with this type of technology due to the intense heat-energy created by sunlight bouncing off mirrors and concentrating at the tower receiver (where the molten salt is heated): the solar flux incinerates or injures birds which fly through it. Right now, swallows are flying about the desert in post-breeding movements. Other birds may also be active, such as lesser nighthawks. We will be monitoring the mortality reports since this power plant is on public land.

Also see the article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Basin & Range Watch Receives Grant to Study Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands Under Threat in the Great Basin

^The Egan Range, near Ely, Nevada. Not in need of management.

July 29, 2017 - Native ecosystems of the Great Basin are under attack from long-running management policies used by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that are coming more and more under question.

Using terms such as "treatment" and "restore" BLM proposes to clearcut and thin natural communities that may have more to do with livestock range improvements than helping sage grouse and other wildlife.

One area will cover almost 85,000 acres in the Egan Range of eastern Nevada, near Ely:

"The Bristlecone Field Office is proposing to conduct a habitat and vegetation restoration project within an 84,675 acre project area in the Egan and Johnson Basins. Treatments would focus primarily on removing pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) from sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities. The proposed action is to treat approximately 24,375 acres of 21 treatment units and to manually thin pinyon and juniper in some areas (low density tree areas) throughout the entire 84,675 acre project area. The purpose of the treatments would be to restore sagebrush communities and improve woodland health by reducing tree canopy coverage and density of pinyon pine and Utah juniper. This would also improve Greater sage-grouse and other wildlife habitat, improve vegetation community health, decrease heavy fuel loads, and improve resistance and resiliency to disturbance (wildfire, weeds, etc.)." (See BLM's eplanning page)

In Utah, pinyon and juniper trees will be destroyed on the Tavaputs Plateau near Sunnyside, UT. BLM describes how "Encroaching pinyon-juniper trees will be thinned, shredded and burned utilizing various treatment methods including; thin-pile-burn, lop & scatter bullhog and seeding." This is purportedly to "restore" sage grouse habitat. (See BLM's eplanning page)

Basin and Range Watch recently recieved a grant from Fund For Wild Nature to document the impacts of these BLM treatments on Pinyon-Juniper woodland in the Great Basin, and use the latest science to study the historical ecology and relationships between wildfire, wildlife, and grazing in pinyon-juniper woodlands. We will share our findings later this year.

Save Our National Monuments

July 10, 2017 - Overlooking the 702,000 acre Basin and Range National Monument from 8,606 ft. Timber Mountain, Seaman Range, Nevada. Will monument designation be removed? Will a train transporting high level nuclear waste be built though the monument lands if the status changes? You can support the monuments here:

Federal Government Seeks Input on How to Gut National Environmental Policy Act Reviews

July 4, 2017 - Our public lands are at an even greater tunring point now, with the administration seeking to "streamline" environmental laws and reviews of development projects. Demand a longer review period--two weeks is too short for such a gigantic potential change.

Announcements received July 3 read: "The President and Secretary of the Interior Zinke have asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take a new, in-depth look into our land use planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes."

A very short 21-day comment period, beginning on July 3, 2017 and ending on July 24, 2017, opens during in which you can "submit your ideas specific to how we can make the BLM’s planning procedures and environmental reviews timelier and less costly, as well as responsive to local needs. This streamlining effort will help shape how we move forward. You can submit your input by going to this link:" In other words, how to lessen public input in environmental reviews so that corporate interests may develop our public lands fater and more easily.

Past efforts to shorten the NEPA are partly at fault, we beleive, in the push to streamline energy projects of all kinds. Precedents set by one administration can easily be used by the next administration, no matter how different their policies. The big lesson is to never compromise the laws that we have, no matter how tempting it is. Keeping what we have gives us tools we may need in the future. It was a mistake to promote any streamlining.

This should be a lesson for environmentalists who promoted the streamlining of large-scale renewable energy on public lands during the last administration. Many large project reviews were "streamlined". Fast forward to the present where the Trump Administration shows very little pride in our public treasures, but will use this streamlining template to open up the whole west to multiple kinds of development. They are taking the "public" out of "public lands".

Streamlining Environmental Review on Public Lands

The Google Document presented by the Department of Interior states:

The BLM is working to identify discrete actions that can be taken to improve the NEPA and planning processes. The Bureau is specifically looking for improvements in the following six focus areas. To be most helpful, please submit succinct and unique ideas relevant to each of these six focus areas, using the fields on the following pages (please use one field for each discrete idea).

A. Focused Analysis: How can the BLM reduce duplicative and disproportionate analyses?

B. User-friendly Planning: How can the BLM help state and local governments, tribal partners, and other stakeholders understand and participate in the planning process?

C. Transparency: How can the BLM foster greater transparency in the NEPA process?

D. Being Good Neighbors: How can the BLM build trust and better integrate the needs of state and local governments, tribal partners, and other stakeholders?

E. Reducing Litigation: How can the BLM create legally defensible documents and avoid the delays associated with legal challenges?

F. "Right-sized" Environmental Analysis: How can the BLM more closely match the level of NEPA analysis to the scale of the action being analyzed?

Recommended solutions may include changes to BLM policy (e.g., Bureau manuals, handbooks, etc.); changes to regulations; and/or changes to laws.

You are welcome to submit multiple forms if you have more than four recommended solutions for a topic.

The BLM will consider the input you provide as the Bureau identifies potential solutions for improving the planning and NEPA processes. However, please note that this is not an official comment period; the BLM will not be providing responses back to you on the input you submit.

DOI Privacy Policy:

The BLM is interested in soliciting public input about ways to streamline the Bureau's planning and NEPA processes. This request constitutes a general solicitation of comments and does not seek information about commenters, other than that necessary for self-identification. Therefore it is not subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. 3501-3521. (Please refer to implementing regulations at 5 CFR 1320.3(h)(4)).

Ord Mountain Solar Project and the San Emigdio Blue Butterfly

^Fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens) on a playa edge near the Granite Mountains, Lucerne Valley.

June 30, 2017 - Lucerne Valley CA - The Ord Mountain Solar Project would be located on 485 acres of land just north of Lucerne Valley, California. It would remove Mojave Desert natural communities and be constructed within 50 feet of some homes. The project would produce 60 MW and would have a 35,000 square foot battery storage building. Because temperatures get so hot in Lucerne Valley in the summer, the building will require air conditioning. The question is, how much power will be used up to cool the building with the batteries? Why not use rooftops instead, especially rooftops in coastal cities and load centers? Individual batteries can stay cool in homes.

There is a rare butterfly that may be present as well, the San Emigdio blue (Plebejus emigdionis) that requires saltbush (Atriplex) as its host plant. It has a special relationship with the mound ant (Formica francoeuri). The butterfly lays a single egg on four-wing saltbush leaves (Atriplex canescens). Caterpillars eat the saltbush leaves and are tended to by the ants which harvest honeydew from the larvae. Older caterpillars overwinter in the soil. Building industrial solar projects in Atriplex habitats in this area could destroy this delicate ecology.

The San Emigdio blue is very rare and local in southern California from Inyo County south through the Mojave Desert, San Joaquin Valley, Bouquet and Mint Canyons, and Los Angeles County. Its NatureServe Global Status is G3 - Very rare or local throughout its range or found locally in a restricted range (21 to 100 occurrences), and therefore considered threatened throughout its range. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has considered it as a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

This project should not be built here, but better alternatives of Community Choice Aggregate and community solar projects in places where the local community chooses, or rooftop solar in the built environment coupled with battery storage, should be the preferred alternative.

For more information, and email address to send comment to, see >>here.

The Overgeneration Problem in California

June 22, 2017 - Finally catching up to our analysis, the Los Angeles Times has a good article out about the glut of solar now in the Golden State, and how electricity generation from large-scale solar projects in the desert must be curtailed more and more.

They discuss the findings of former San Diego Gas and Electric engineer Jaleh Firooz:

Firooz reported that "...a combination of improved energy efficiency, local solar production, storage and other planning strategies would be more than sufficient to handle the area’s power needs even as the population grew."

No need for more utility-scale solar projects to be built on desert ecosystems, or new natural gas plants.

We have been talking about this for a year now, based on meetings of the Renewable Energy Action Team, and such information shared here. This is precisely where Distributed options like Community Choice Aggregates and residential solar paired with advanced battery storage can help store some of the glut so it does not unbalance the grid. But this requires a new utility model, and that has been somewhat slow and painful for California.

Oil Drilling Leases Gone Overboard in Central Nevada Basins

^Table Mountain Wilderness Area, a 9-10,000 foot plateau covered with aspen on the Monitor Range, Toiyabe National Forest.

May 26, 2017 - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned about 190,000 acres of public lands in some of the most remote and beautiful basins of central Nevada for oil and natural gas leases, including places like Monitor Valley between the tall Toquima Range and Table Mountain Wilderness Area.

Setting a precedent, BLM did absolutely no deferrals. In the past, BLM deferred areas that were nominated for leases if the liquid mineral resources seemed speculative, damaging of resources, or frankly poor. In what appears to be a political move to further the domestic energy aganda of President Trump, no deferrals were marked during this round of auctions.

The problem is, these oil deposits are very deep and would be expensive to drill, lying under thick faulted Great Basin crusts and tough geological layers thousands of feet down. They are not shallow oil desposits such as in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, or the rich oil deposits of Texas, or even the Bakersfield oil plays in California. Speculation seems rampant in Nevada these days, but BLM is being influenced by the present administration to make energy production in the US appear greater than it is. The numbers may look good on paper, but Nevada is quite marginal for oil drilling. Railroad Valley hosts a few drill rigs and pumps, but it is a very low and marginal producer. Global oil prices will no doubt decide how much money drillers are willing to throw at these poor resources.

^Monitor Valley with the Monitor Range in the background. This is sage grouse habitat with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and lush native grass, rush and sedge meadows.

We have seen Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Monitor Valley several times, and the area should be protected from new road-building, disturbance, and test drilling. This is a wild and scenic basin surrounded by aspen-filled mountain ranges. It should not be released for oil and gas drilling.

Several environmental groups protested the leases.

^Aspen on the Monitor Range, central Nevada.

Cadiz Water Project: Tell Rep. Cook It's a Bad Idea in the Desert

May 26, 2017 - San Bernardino County CA - Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA, 8th District) is up for reelection in 2018 and supports the Cadiz Water Project which would pump groundwater out of the Mojave Desert to be piped to coastal southern California cities. The project will damage springs in the Mojave National Preserve. You can contact Paul Cook and tell him that his support of a project would only benefit a big company and will harm groundwater resources in the area. This is mostly fossil water, and recharge takes decades if not centuries. Contact him >>here.

Crescent Peak Wind Proposal Pushed Ahead by BLM

^Crescent Peak Hills, Nevada, site of a proposed wind project adjacent to the new Castle Mountains National Monument.

May 14, 2017 - According to documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is putting out a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Resource Management Plan but will not consider the wind free request. The EIS would cover wilderness study, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC's), solar energy, land disposal, Gold Butte, and socioeconomics. Basin and Range Watch sent in a request to BLM to examine a wind-energy-free zone in the Searchlight and Piute Valley region, accompanied by a petition with over 700 signatures. The Colorado River Indian Tribes also requested this. We believe it is legitimate for BLM to cover it in a Supplemental EIS.

There is a draft Notice of Intent (with mineral segregation) and BLM has a Press Release ready to go with no date on it were obtained as part of the FOIA documents we obtained. There is also a raptor survey indicating the area is full of eagles. See more >>here.

Saving Our National Monuments: Comment Period to Open

^The Superbloom this April in the Temblor Range, Carrizo Plain National Monument. Hillside daisy (Monolopia lanceolata) and phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) make large patches of color that brought many tourists to wonder at the normally arid grassland in the South Coast Range of California. These areas should continue to be protected as National Monuments. (Photo: Laura Cunningham)

May 11, 2017 - The Office of the Secretary of Interior posted the rather ominously titled press release today:
Interior Department Releases List of Monuments Under Review, Announces First-Ever Formal Public Comment Period for Antiquities Act Monuments.

The press release states: "The Department of the Interior today announced the first ever formal public comment period for members of the public to officially weigh in on monument designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906, and the Department released a list of monuments under review under the President’s Executive Order 13792, issued April 26, 2017. A public comment period is not required for monument designations under the Antiquities Act; however, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and President Trump both strongly believe that local input is a critical component of federal land management.

"Comments may be submitted online after May 12 at by entering 'DOI-2017-0002' in the Search bar and clicking 'Search,' or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.

"DATES: The Department will shortly publish a notice in the Federal Register officially opening the public comment period. Written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted within 15 days of publication of that notice. Written comments relating to all other designations subject to Executive Order 13792 must be submitted within 60 days of that date."

National Monuments being reviewed include the following:

Basin and Range (Nevada) 2015 -703,585 acres
Bears Ears (Utah) 2016 - 1,353,000 acres
Berryessa Snow Mountain (California) 2015- 330,780 acres
Canyons of the Ancients (Colorado) 2000 - 175,160 acres
Carrizo Plain (California) 2001- 204,107 acres
Cascade Siskiyou (Oregon) 2000/ expanded in 2017 - 100,000 acres
Craters of the Moon (Idaho) 1924/expanded in 2000 - 737,525 acres
Giant Sequoia (California) 2000 - 327,760 acres
Gold Butte (Nevada) 2016 - 296,937 acres
Grand Canyon-Parashant (Arizona) 2000 - 1,014,000 acres
Grand Staircase-Escalante (Utah) 1996 - 1,700,000 acres
Hanford Reach (Washington) 2000 - 194,450.93 acres
Ironwood Forest (Arizona) 2000 - 128,917 acres
Mojave Trails (California) 2016 - 1,600,000 acres
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (New Mexico) 2014 - 496,330 acres
Rio Grande del Norte (New Mexico) 2013 - 242,555 acres
Sand to Snow (California) 2016 - 154,000 acres
San Gabriel Mountains (California) 2014 - 346,177 acres
Sonoran Desert (Arizona) 2001 - 486,149 acres
Upper Missouri River Breaks (Montana) 2001 - 377,346 acres
Vermilion Cliffs (Arizon)a 2000 - 279,568 acres


Katahadin Woods and Waters (Maine) 2016 -87,563 acres

Marine National Monuments are also being reviewed. We will shortly have sample letters to send to Congress and the Interior Secretary to request these amazing places continue to be protected. More >>here including our LETTER to SESCRETARY OF THE INTERIOR.

Cancellation of Searchlight Wind Project Protects Tortoises and Golden Eagles

^Searchlight Hills, Nevada.

April 19, 2017 - Crews are now removing the wind testing meteorological (MET) towers for the Searchlight Wind Project which was proposed to be located on public lands in the Piute Valley about 50 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Vegas Field Office, the agency is now in the process of closing the application for the project, 18 months after a federal judge voided the federal approvals for the project because of the likely harm to desert tortoises and golden eagles.

In March 2013, the BLM issued a Record of Decision approving construction of the Searchlight Wind Energy Project by. The project would have sited 87 industrial scale wind turbines, each 427 feet tall (about the height of the Palms Hotel), on the ridges and uplands next to the town of Searchlight, Nevada and bordering scenic Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The project would have marred the area’s scenic beauty, threatened the desert tortoise, killed golden eagles, desecrated the view of Spirit Mountain—sacred to Native American Tribes—impacted the historical mining district, and damaged the future tourism potential of the community. The project would have been sited on 9,300 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The project site borders the Piute-Eldorado Area of Critical Environmental Concern, designated to protect the desert tortoise.

On October 30th, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du vacated the federal permits for construction of the Searchlight Wind Project in Southern Nevada. Judge Du found that environmental analyses prepared by the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) inadequately evaluated the dangers that the industrial-scale wind project would pose to desert wildlife. She cited data missing from the agency surveys, inadequate assessment of potential threats to golden eagles, desert tortoises, and bats. The BLM claimed that only 3 golden eagle nests were within 10 miles of the proposed project, but it was later confirmed by the Nevada Division of Wildlife that the number of golden eagle nests was 28.

Kevin Emmerich, CoFounder of Basin and Range Watch, said, “We applaud the Bureau of Land Management for finally putting an end to this ill-sited wind project. There are clearly better alternatives for renewable energy utilizing rooftops and other locations in the built environment that would produce the same amount of megawatts. It is time for the BLM to manage this special location to protect the view-shed, wildlife, property values and cultural resources in a way that will bring tourist dollars to the region.. This is no place for industrial scale energy.”

The BLM is considering another large-scale wind energy proposal in this region on over 35,000 acres to the west of the former Searchlight Wind Project. It would be called the Crescent Peak Wind Project and be located right next to the Mojave National Preserve and Castle Mountains National Monument. Basin and Range Watch has requested that the BLM designate the entire region a “Large-Scale Energy Free Zone” in their upcoming Southern Nevada Resource Management Plan.

“If a federal court ruled that there are too many potential harms to build an industrial-scale wind project near Searchlight, surely a far larger project like Crescent Peak with far more impacts should not be developed” said Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch’s Executive Director. BLM expects to publish its Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Crescent Peak project later this year.

Judge Du’s October 30, 2015 order can be viewed here:

The plaintiffs are represented by Dave Becker, an environmental lawyer from Portland, Oregon, and Jim Boyle of Holley, Driggs, Walch, Fine, Wray, Puzey & Thompson in Las Vegas.

Cadiz Groundwater Storage Project--A Bad Idea in the Desert

April 11, 2017 - The Trump adminsitration removed one of the main obstacles holding up the Cadiz water storage project, changing an adminisyrative finding from 2015 that the company seeking to store groundwater under the Cadiz Basin had to undergo extensive environmental review to use 43 miles of existing railraid route for its water pipeline. This original finding would have meant the Cadiz water company would need to obtain a Right-of-Way to use this railroad Right-of-Way across Bureau of Land Management land. The company is seeking to pump groundwater from wells west of Needles CA and pipe it to the Cadiz basin, to then sell to urban areas in Orange County.

The project may also be seeking financial aid from the federal government, as it was mentioned in a memo by the Trump Administration for a possible infrasctructure stimulus pick.

Check out Mojave Desert Blog for an excellent summary of the current situation concerning this unsustainable proposal.

Basin & Range Watch Gets Out to Visit Congressional Offices, Attend Conferences, and Educate Kids

March 13, 2017 - Thanks to your generous donations we have been busy getting out and about in our continuing conservation activities. On February 24 and 25, 2017, we attended the Desert Tortoise Council annual Symposium in Las Vegas NV where we also had an informational table about our nonprofit. The latest science about desert tortoises was presented and we will report on this later.

On March 2 and 3, 2017, we attended the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where we were on two panels. One was about large-scale solar in the desert and better alternatives such as rooftop solar. We showed students and public participants the impacts that have accumulated over the years from utlity-scale solar projects, and how policy obstacles--not technology--has held back Distributed Generation. Attorney Dave Becker of Portland OR was on our panel, as well as Lisa Belenky of Center for Biological Diversity. The second panel was about pinyon-juniper woodland impacts and removal, Lithium mining, and military base expansions in the Great Basin. More on these panels soon.

Executive Director Laura Cunningham was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Pacific Climate Conference in Pacific Grove last week, where the latest science is discussed concerning reconstructing past climates from proxy data such as pollen analysis of lake cores and ocean sediments, tracking El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycles, drought and the Atmospheric River, and other topics. Work is moving forward on reconstruction of past climate and vegetation from lakes and meadows in the Great Basin. This has implications for understanding future climate.

We also gave a field class to students at the Vernal Pool Preserve by the University of California at Merced, in the San Joaquin Valley CA. It was great to work with young people about natural history and writing. Some of the students are developing an app that will be a digital field guide to the species on the preserve, that students can use to learn about the tremendous biodiversity there. During the morning we saw a burrowing owl fly out of a ground squirrel burrow, two bald eagles, numerous geese and sandpipers, flocks of horned larks, a coyote, and wildflowers beginning to bloom after a very rainy winter.

And importantly, Basin & Range Watch during the last month has visited the offices of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Representative Ruben Kihuen (D-NV 4th District) in Las Vegas NV, to discuss issues of concern to us in the desert: public lands, energy development, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository, and military base expansions, as well as our proposal for a wind energy-free zone in Piute Valley in southern Nevada. We plan to visit more offices of our elected officials in Nevada and California in the coming weeks and months.

^Students at UC Merced in the San Joaquin Valley learn about grassland species, examining the sign of burrowing owls at a California ground squirrel burrow.

^Poster at the Pacific Climate Conference on geophysical characters of a lake sediment core in the Utah Great Basin.

^Slide showing genetic connectivity models across the Southwest Deserts for the Desert tortoise, shown at the Desert Tortoise Council Symposium.

^Last but not least, we had good discussions with staff of our elected officials in Congress. Here is the plaza near the Court building in Las Vegas NV, where Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has her local office.

The Sierra Club Desert Report Tells Our Story

March 12, 2017 - Read the Desert Report, news of the desert from Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee expertly edited by Craig Deutsche. Our Executive Director Laura Cunningham writes aboput how Basin and Range Watch got started defending the desert, and what our plans are for continuing. Our good friend Terry Weiner, of the Desert Protective Council, writes a parallel article about how this venerable organization has perservered through the decades also defending the desert, and is unfortunately dissolving this month. Basin and Range Watch is taking over the organizations duties and continuing its mission. Stay tuned.

See the Desert Report at:

Please consider a donation to help publish this valuable journal that covers California and Nevada desert issues. We have been cooperating with Desert Committee friends and colleagues for many years and value their work in desert conservation.



^Desert near the town of Ocotillo CA, west side of the Imperial Valley.

Basin and Range Watch is honored to be able to continue the mission and many of the projects of the Desert Protective Council, as it dissolves in 2017. We are saddened to see this great desert group, founded in 1954, leave the scene. DPC members voted to formally dissolve the organization into Basin and Range Watch, and we will work hard to continue the excellent educational programs and tradition of desert conservation of the Desert Protective Council. We will of course continue publication of El Paisano, the magazine of news and education in the desert.








Calendar of Comment Deadlines:

Palen Solar Photovoltaic Project Comments Due December 11, 2017 >>BLM


About Us


Pinyon-Juniper Woodland


Trump Administration

Renewable Energy



Public Lands

Land Exchanges

Military Base Expansions


Groundwater Mining

News Archive
























"In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe."

--Edward Abbey, 1967, Desert Solitaire


"Polite conversationalists leave no mark, save the scar upon the earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground."

--David Brower


"Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved."

Rachel Carson, Essay on the Biological Sciences, in, Good Reading (1958)






Sign up for our Newsletter on threats to the desert, action alerts, and natural history notes:










Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Basin and Range Watch unless otherwise stated. Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.