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Environment

Federal Desert Management Plan For California Almost Complete

The sun sets in the Mojave Desert in this undated photo.
Courtesy of National Park Service
The sun sets in the Mojave Desert in this undated photo.

Federal officials are close to adopting a sweeping management plan for a wide swath of public land in California's deserts.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan manages development on 10 million acres of federal land.

Federal Desert Management Plan For California Almost Complete
Federal officials are close to adopting a sweeping management plan for a wide swath of public land in California's deserts.

Bureau of Land Management's Dana Wilson said the document protects more than 5 million acres of land and allows renewable energy projects on 338,000 acres. The remainder is open for recreation.

"Two big goals are renewable energy development and conservation — figuring out the right places to site renewable energy projects," Wilson said.

The plan doesn't go far enough to protect natural habitat, according to Kevin Emmerich of the Basin and Range Watch. He said renewable projects like solar should happen on rooftops in cities before natural habitat is destroyed.

"The deserts are big, but they're not limitless," Emmerich said. "And as we've seen from some of these large projects that have been constructed, we're taking out literally five to six square miles of habitat and there are multi-faceted impacts."

The plan was fast-tracked and Emmerich worried there wasn't enough consideration given to unintended consequences.

The planning document has won support from environmental groups like the Wilderness Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They praise the protection of fragile habitat.

The planning document should be finalized sometime in the next couple of months.

Federal officials are still putting together a plan for the second phase of the document, which manages another 12 million acres. That plan regulates state, local and private lands.