EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

March 30, 2014

Column: Saving the Mojave from the solar energy threat

After nearly 38 years working for the National Park Service, I hung up my “flat hat” this month and retired as superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. That means I can now speak out against pending proposals with the potential to harm our country’s most spectacular national parks in the California desert.

My experience in the National Park System began right out of high school, when I spent a season patrolling the mountainous trails of Yosemite National Park’s backcountry as a wilderness ranger. By the end of that time, I was hooked. I was captivated by the beauty of Yosemite, the challenge of the work, and by seeing the effect the park had on the people who visited it.

Eventually I worked my way up the ranks from wilderness ranger to physical scientist to Yosemite’s chief project manager. Most recently, I served as superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. For nearly four decades with the National Park Service, I never lost that sense of joy in seeing people connect with nature, especially as they came to know the unique ecosystems of the California desert.

At first, California’s Mojave Desert can appear harsh, barren and threatening. But spend some time in it and you’ll discover the desert’s constantly changing beauty, its expansive vistas and its unique plant and animal life — all the things that in 2013 caused the National Geographic Society to name the Mojave one of the world’s 100 most scenic places.

California’s storied desert is also, however, a surprisingly delicate ecosystem, and it is now threatened by large-scale renewable energy projects, including one proposed at Soda Mountain.

The 4,000-acre Soda Mountain Solar project is under environmental review. If approved, it would be located a mere quarter of a mile away from the boundary of the remarkable Mojave National Preserve. The project threatens bighorn sheep migration corridors, desert tortoise habitat and the integrity of the Soda Mountains Wilderness Study Area. Project pumping could also drain and harm the quality of MC Spring in Mojave National Preserve, home of the federally endangered tui chub, a unique and rare desert fish.

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