Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The tortoise and the solar plant

Biologists are relocating species such as this juvenile Mojave Desert tortoise due to the planned construction of BrightSource Energy's solar plant in southern California. Sarah McBride for NPR

By Sarah McBride
October 30, 2010

Mercy Vaughn crouches over a young tortoise peeking out from its burrow near a creosote bush in California's Mojave Desert.

The area is home to rare species, including the threatened desert tortoise. But a giant solar plant is under construction in the vast wilderness area.

To help save the animal, the company building the plant, BrightSource Energy, had to agree to a lot of conditions, including reptile relocation.

Vaughn, a biologist from Texas, and her colleague Peter Woodman are leading a team of 50 biologists hired to survey the site over and over before construction begins. They have to keep track of every single tortoise.

"This is one that was walking down the middle of the road when it was spotted by one of the monitors," Woodman says. "Luckily, we've got a radio transmitter on it now."

He's looking at an adult female tortoise; she's about the size of a dinner plate, and the transmitter is glued to her shell. It almost looks like a stray twig. …

The tortoises can't stay where construction crews might harm them, so the biologists are moving them to pens to ride out the desert winter. In the spring, they'll try relocating them to the wild.

BrightSource is spending more than $40 million to protect plants and wildlife. That includes buying acres of land to keep as nature preserves. …

The Tortoise And The Solar Plant: A Mojave Story

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