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Long-Term Protection Sought for Crucial Desert Tortoise Habitat in Nevada

For immediate release October 7th, 2022

Kevin Emmerich, Basin and Range Watch, (775) 764-1080,
Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, (775) 513-1280,

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Conservation organizations nominated a high-value Mojave Desert habitat for protection to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), requesting the establishment of a 58,000-acre Cactus Springs Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) located just north of Cactus Springs, Nevada, in the Indian Springs Valley northwest of Las Vegas. The region has been described by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as the “most critical desert tortoise connectivity corridor in Nevada.”

This part of the Mojave Desert is viewed as a very important wildlife corridor for the federally threatened Mojave desert tortoise. Wildlife corridors link habitats which provide opportunities for breeding and genetic viability. Habitat connectivity is defined as the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes animal movement and other ecological processes. This is especially important to mitigate the impacts of climate change on this declining species. The Indian Springs Valley provides a link from the North Las Vegas Valley to Amargosa Valley and Pahrump Valley. Most of the land to the south is heavily urbanized by Las Vegas, Nevada.

“This area is critical to the long-term survival of the desert tortoise, which has seen significant population declines of 35 percent between 2004 and 2014, when the last range-wide population surveys were undertaken,” said Kevin Emmerich, Co-founder of Basin and Range Watch. “It would be a waste to sacrifice this habitat for large-scale solar energy when sound alternatives for this energy exist of rooftops, over parking lots and on brownfields.” The site also contains important habitat for other significant Mojave Desert species such as the Mojave yucca, Gila monster, burrowing owl, American badger, and the rare Parish’s club cholla—which is found on a limited range in Nevada and California. The region averages over 60 cacti and yuccas per acre. Big galleta grass, a staple food for the desert tortoise is abundant in local washes this year after significant rain. The proposed ACEC would also protect the fragile riparian habitat of Cactus Springs located on BLM lands. Cactus Springs is a unique small spring mound with non-flowing surface water. Historically there were two or more springs. A dense honey mesquite woodland thrives here with a shallow groundwater table, as well as a stand of Fremont cottonwood. The riparian trees and mesquite thickets provide a rare stopover for Neotropical migrant birds during spring and fall.
Phainopeplas – unique desert songbirds with black plumage and a pointed crest – are common here, feasting on the berries of mistletoe.

The ACEC would not close existing roads or routes, nor would it change existing land uses. But it would limit the proliferation of large-scale solar energy projects on habitat. The area is seeing pressure to develop utility-scale solar projects and associated transmission projects on over 12,000 acres of this local habitat.

“We understand the great urgency to fight the drastic impacts of climate change,” said Laura Cunningham, California Director at Western Watersheds Project. “But we need to be smart about where to build these large-scale solar projects. We need to conserve rare biodiversity on public lands.”

The push to develop renewable energy and transmission on public lands by the Interior Department is creating a land rush of large-scale energy applications on significant habitat for imperiled species and carbon-sequestering ecosystems.  The ACEC is proposed as an alternative to sprawling solar energy projects on these important public lands.

The ACEC nomination can be viewed here: Cactus Springs ACEC.pdf

Basin and Range Watch is a nonprofit organization working to conserve the Mojave and Great Basin deserts and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands of the desert.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 12,000 members and supporters. Their mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.

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