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Renewable energy projects threaten some of California’s rarest plants

October 17, 2009 |  7:22 pm

The proposed construction of massive wind and solar energy projects on public land in the California desert would hasten destruction and further fragment land that is home to 17% of state’s rarest plants, botanists said Saturday.

“Most of the solar and wind projects currently under review are in the wrong places,” said Greg Suba, conservation program director for the California Native Plant Society. He and other experts spoke at Cal State Fullerton for the Southern California Botanists’ 35th annual symposium.

“We believe that full surveys of all plants — not just of targeted species — should be required for all these project sites,” Suba said. “Plant species represent the underlying fabric of an ecosystem.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission are reviewing 130 applications to build wind and solar projects on more than a million acres of public land. Companies hope to begin construction on about a dozen of those projects by late next year.

The development of solar power facilities in the desert has been a top priority of the Obama administration as it seeks to ease the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels and address climate change.

But Suba and James Andre, director of the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center in the east Mojave community of Kelso, urged that the projects currently under review by state and federal regulatory agencies be built on more than 200,000 acres of land already identified as ecologically disturbed.

“It’s the end of much of the California desert,” said Andre. “Millions of acres could eventually be bulldozed and fenced off. It’s your land, but you won’t be able to go there.”

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--Louis Sahagun reporting from Fullerton