Carrizo Plain National Monument
|Selby Rocks on Carrizo Plain
Chorus of Concern on Carrizo
are representative excerpts of comments filed by environmental groups
and the California Dept. of Fish and Game on the environmental impact
reports of the California Valley Solar Ranch and Topaz Solar Farm. Full
text at: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/planning/environmental/EnvironmentalNotices/optisoloar/responses.htm
While Audubon California supports
renewable energy to reduce the impacts of climate change, we advocate
for avoidance of habitat disturbance over mitigation. We are especially
concerned about the inadequate level of effort in the DEIR on the many
species of birds in the project vicinity.... The science is insufficient
to know with a reasonable degree of certainty whether a mobile species,
such as the Kit Fox or Pronghorn Antelope, will utilize the corridors
between solar arrays, or whether foxes will pass through the fencing and
use the solar array areas themselves.
Center for Biological Diversity
It is hard to imagine a proposed
project site with more endangered and imperiled species on site than the
project described in the [CVSR] EIR. The proposed project will result
in significant unmitigable impacts to biological resources both on the
proposed project site and cumulatively for the region.... The DEIR fails
to consider potential alternatives that would protect the most sensitive
lands from future development. Alternative siting such as the Westlands
Solar Park, which is on abandoned agricultural fields, and alternative
technologies (including distributed PV on commercial rooftops and near
existing substations) should have been fully considered in the DEIR, because
these alternatives would eliminate the impacts to species, soils, and
water resources in the California Valley, which is part of the larger
Carrizo Plain.... In its discussion of the need for renewable energy production,
the [Topaz] DEIR fails to address risks associated with global climate
change in context the need for climate change adaptation strategies (e.g.,
conserving intact wild lands and the corridors that connect them). All
climate change adaptation strategies underline the importance of protecting
intact wild lands and associated wildlife corridors as a priority adaptation
strategy measure... [The project] could undermine a meaningful climate
change adaptation strategy with a poorly executed climate change mitigation
strategy. The way to maintain healthy, vibrant ecosystems is not to fragment
them and reduce their biodiversity.
Defenders of Wildlife
Despite Project improvements, the
DEIR has multiple flaws. It fails to analyze a reasonable range of alternatives,
narrowly defining the project's objectives in such a way as to preclude
assessment of many viable alternatives on private and public degraded
land. In addition, the DEIR does not adequately address the significant
loss of habitat and cumulatively significant impacts of a project that
spans more than 2,000 acres of relatively undisturbed grassland.... The
Westlands CREZ Alternative is feasible based on a CEQA feasibility analysis.
It is capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable
period of time, taking into account economic, environmental, legal, social,
and technological factors.... It should be considered for adoption due
to the inability to mitigate impacts to San Joaquin kit fox and giant
kangaroo rat on the proposed project site.
Natural Resources Defense
The two projects impact the same
species of concern and together have the potential to significantly reduce
the width and permeability of a key migration corridor that runs up and
down the Carrizo Plain.... impacts to [kit fox] will have cumulative impacts
far beyond Carrizo that will prevent recovery of the species.... Given
the significant impacts of the project and the cumulative impacts anticipated
if both projects mentioned above are developed, we are very concerned
about the lack of a clearly described mitigation plan in the DEIR
The Nature Conservancy
Based on the wide-ranging impacts
to species and the lack of sufficient, effective and appropriate mitigation,
the Conservancy must register deep concern with the project.... The mitigation
package should not include fragmented lands within the project's footprint
that are unused for photovoltaic panels...because of the uncertainty as
to whether kit fox or other wide-ranging species would actually use these
sites.... Without a thorough plan to accomplish these goals and others,
efforts to mitigate losses to San Joaquin Valley threatened and endangered
species could fail, exacting a devastating toll on the Carrizo Plain core
populations and recovery of the species overall.
North County Watch
Although the large scale industrial
solar project that is the subject of this EIR is located outside the Carrizo
Plain National Monument on adjacent private lands, its development and
operation will necessarily have significant, irreversible, individual
and cumulative adverse spillover effects on vital public values of the
Monument.. The significant adverse effects on the essential, intrinsic
values of the Monument - its isolation, tranquility, visual integrity,
cultural sacredness - cannot be mitigated and are scarcely discussed in
We are concerned with the [Topaz]
DEIR's finding that "the Proposed Project would contribute to a cumulatively
considerable impact to wildlife connectivity or corridors when combined
with impacts from past, present, and reasonable future projects (Class
I for San Joaquin Kit Fox)." Specifically, "the two solar projects that
would be located in the Carrizo Plain would reduce the existing corridor
available to wildlife by 50 percent, nearly bisecting the Carrizo Plain
into a north and south section." the DEIR proposes that "For SJKF, while
impacts related to habitat loss may be mitigated through the acquisition
and conversion of agricultural lands to more compatible uses, ultimately
these projects would be major barriers to movement in the region.." The
DEIR's vague reference to "dramatic cost reductions" in residential and
commercial solar PV technology since 2007 should be replaced with actual,
current figures for purposes of comparison.. Southern California Edison's
500MW urban warehouse PV project is based on First Solar's PV technology
and demonstrates that distributed PV installations can be built in urban
California Department of
Fish and Game
The Department recommends that
this Project be relocated to impaired agricultural lands in the Central
Valley, or to otherwise disturbed lands that are not considered critical
for the recovery of multiple State and Federally listed species.... Any
project in the Westlands CREZ would substantially reduce or even eliminate
impacts to the species that occur on the proposed project site. Many of
the species do not even occur within the Westlands CREZ, which is expected
to support only low numbers of a few special status species.
The Carrizo Management Plan Needs You
The Bureau of Land Management has released the public dreaft of the Resource
Mangement Plan for Carrizo Plain National Mangement Plan (RMP). Now they
need to hear from you.
Specifically, they need to hear that the Monument is a special and fragile
place –that’s why it was given special status and the way
it is management should be special, too.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is a uniquely diverse landscape. It
is a singular place of national and worldwide significance.
Its species, communities and ecosystems are extremely rare and imperiled.
The very future of its extraordinary plants and animals, unique ecosystems
and other outstanding features could very well depend on the decisions
made in the RMP.
Because of its significance, designation as a National Monument and inclusion
in the National Landscape Conservation System, the BLM should manage the
Carrizo Plain National Monument differently than other BLM lands. The
BLM should prioritize resource preservation.
The Natural Area Plan and the preferred alternative in the February 2004
draft of the Environmental Assessment provided a solid foundation for
future management. The BLM should build upon these recommendations.
The valuable and fragile evidence of pre-historic and historic peoples
should be protected. Painted rock and other archaeological and historic
sites within the Monument preserve an important span of history. The BLM
should ensure that it manages the Monument to provide for their preservation
The road system on the ground should support transportation needs around
the Monument, but must also support protection of the Monument’s
The natural splendor of the Monument is best protected by limiting the
number of roads. The BLM should limit the roads in the Monument to those
that support the mission of protecting the Monument’s values.
The BLM should consider the road network and fencing across the Monument
in the context of the connectivity of the landscape.
The BLM should consider removing fences which inhibit the movement of
The BLM should consider closing and rehabilitating redundant roads, roads
that serve no visitor or administrative purpose, and roads in sensitive
There are a number of locations where off-road vehicle use is occurring
contrary to the Monument proclamation and the current management plan.
The BLM should document off-road vehicle use, analyze its impacts and
develop a plan to address the impacts including signage, law enforcement
Grazing/invasive species need to be managed to protect the natural environment.
The BLM should analyze the impacts of livestock grazing to plant and animal
species and ecosystems. The BLM should permit livestock grazing only if
it can be demonstrated to benefit native species and ecosystems.
The BLM should consider phasing out the remaining long-term grazing leases
and replacing them with annual free use permits if grazing is used as
a resource management tool.
Invasive species need to be managed to protect the natural environment,
but the BLM should permit livestock grazing only if it can be demonstrated
to benefit native species and ecosystems. Livestock grazing has been found
to be detrimental to plant and animal species and ecosystems in the Carrizo
Plain National Monument.
The BLM should develop fire management policies and prescriptions for
the Monument which provide for the use of naturally occurring fire to
restore and maintain the Monument’s species and ecosystems.
Oil and gas drilling can impact the natural landscape, plants and animals:
The BLM needs to address the potential impacts of oil and gas drilling
on split estate lands.
Only responsible hunting and firearm use should be permitted. Hunting
is one of many ways that visitors use the monument. However, the BLM should
consider the impacts of non-game hunting to the Monument’s ecosystems
and to threatened and endangered species found on the Carrizo Plain, including
the San Joaquin kit fox and the San Joaquin antelope squirrel. The BLM
should consider limiting hunting to game species in season.
The BLM should consider prohibiting the use of lead bullets, because lead
poisoning from those bullets can kill the California condor, an endangered
species, golden eagles, and other raptors.
Target shooting can result in the accumulation of litter, soil contamination
by lead and wildfires. It can also impact the safety and experience of
visitors. The BLM should maintain its current policy of directing target
shooters to facilities outside the Monument.
Now is the time to develop a smart approach to managing visitors to the
Monument Visitor use is expected to increase and the BLM should identify
ways to accommodate current and future visitor use in a way which will
prevent or lessen the potential impacts of visitor use.
In the spring of 2007, the Bureau of Land Management renewed the long-delayed
planning process for Carrizo Plain National Monument, including the preparation
of a broad environmental impact statement. This "scoping process" is to
address the circumstances and values inherent in management of the 250,000
acres of public lands contained within the Carrizo Plain
National Monument, an important unit of the National Landscape Conservation
The designation of National Monuments, together with the establishment
of the NLCS, represents the cornerstone of a new era in land stewardship.
The eyes of the nation will be focused on the results achieved, and on
the BLM's ability to fulfill this new mission of stewardship to: "conserve,
protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have
outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit
of current and future generations."
Read the comments
of The Wilderness Society, Los Padres ForestWatch, Sierra Club, California
Wilderness Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity,
Californians for Western Wilderness, Western Watersheds, and Natural Resources
Defense Council on the scope of the process that BLM should undertake
to protect this priceless natural landscape in San Luis Obispo County.
Copies of the CPNM Draft RMP/Draft EIS are available online www.ca.blm.gov/bakersfield.
Comments are due by April 22. Send your comments via fax: (661) 391-6143,
email at email@example.com, or mail to:
Bureau of Land Management
3801 Pegasus Drive
Bakersfield CA 93308
On April 11, I attended my third California Energy Commission (CEC) meeting
dealing with the proposed Thermal Solar energy facility proposed for Carrizo
Plain. The electricity will be generated with a stream generator. The
plant will use curved mirrors to focus the sun on a system of water filled
pipes, creating steam to run the generators. The Carrizo Energy Solar
Farm (CESF) is designed to generate 177 megawatts. The facility will have
a standard 115-foot cooling tower and 40-foot observation towers. The
plant will cover one square mile and be enclosed by a 10-foot chain link
fence. Ausra is the applicant. Ausra has an option to buy an adjacent
2000 acres for its construction lay down site and future expansion. Solar
facilities on the Carrizo offer a 10-15% greater efficiency. Construction
could take up to 3 years, involve hundreds of employees on multiple shifts,
and have 50 permanent employees. The Plain is remote and difficult to
access. It has been the ancestral home of the Chumash Indians for as long
as 15,000 years.
Ausra estimates that the plant will use 22 Acre Feet per Year of water
and infrequently a peak daily usage of 700,000 gallons per day. CEC staff
is concerned that Carrizo Plain may currently be in an overdraft situation.
According to CEC documents, the safe yield of the aquifer is 600 AFY.
The existing water demand is 930 AFY and projected to rise in the future.
The environmental impacts will be assessed by the CEC under a process
called Preliminary Assessment which closely parallels a CEQA review.
The environmental impacts are extensive. The Carrizo Plain and the Carrizo
National Monument are home to several federally endangered, threatened
and rare species including the San Joaquin Kit Fox, blunt-nose leopard
lizard, San Joaquin antelope squirrel, and the giant kangaroo rat. It
provides habitat for many listed species including the California jewelflower,
Hoover’s wool-star and San Joaquin woolythreads.
Other State and federally listed endangered species or, species of concern
that could be affected by the project include the Tulare grasshopper mouse,
Tipton kangaroo rat, and Pallid bat.
The Carrizo is critical habitat for the condor, has thriving herds of
reintroduced pronghorn antelope and Tule elk. The location proposed for
the plant and the lay down area are favorite pasturing and calving sites
for the antelope. Fencing will impede the movement of these and other
animals. A variety of raptors use the area for roosting, nesting, foraging
The site and construction lay down area are bisected by an environmentally
significant water carrying swale. If it is determined that this drainage
is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through
the Endangered Species Act Section 10 process, the preparation of a Habitat
Conservation Plan will be required.
Incidental Take Permits and Streambed Alteration Permits may be required
and would be under the jurisdiction of California Fish and Game. Fish
and Game has determined that this project would likely result in a “take”
of the California listed and Federally endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox
and may affect other listed species. Impacts to State listed species under
the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) must be fully mitigated,
a standard much more stringent than CEQA’s requirement to mitigate
to less than significant level. The site impacts Wildlife and Habitat
Corridors and would likely require habitat mitigation at a ration higher
than 4:1 to fully mitigate habitat loss. Habitat of equal or higher biological
value would be required for off-site mitigation.
The California Department of Fish and Game has determined that “The
project would create a substantial, permanent, impermeable barrier for
pronghorn at the highway (58) and within the core of one group’s
home range. It would further degrade connectivity between all of the pronghorn
groups in San Luis Obispo county.” (Document submitted to CEC by
DFG, March 26, 2008)
In addition to this proposal, Opti-solar has initialized discussions with
the county for the permitting of a 550 MW photovoltaic facility adjacent
to the CESF site. The Opti-solar plant would cover 8 square miles. This
facility would be likely to generate similar environmental impacts. The
cumulative impacts of the two facilities on the Carrizo Plain would be
The approval process will take up to one year.
Carrizo's Not For Drilling
With the price of a barrel of oil climbing ever skyward, the same question
that has defined the long fight over drilling for oil in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge has now become much more immediate for San Luis Obispo
County: Is it worth destroying one of the Earth’s special places
for a small potential amount of oil?
The answer to that question is heading our way in the form of a proposal
by Vintage Production, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, to explore
for oil in the Carrizo Plain. Although Carrizo is a National Monument,
the mineral rights for about half of its 250,000 acres remain in private
"The Carrizo Plain National Monument is a very special place,"
said Alice Bond of the Wilderness Society. "It is home to the highest
concentration of threatened and endangered species in California, including
the giant kangaroo rat, San Joaquin kit fox, and the blunt-nosed leopard
lizard. It is one of the last remaining remnants of the San Joaquin grassland
ecosystem providing essential habitat to these species."
These fauna, as well as the endangered plant species and Carrizo’s
status as critical habitat for the California condor and the first site
in the state to host reintroduced pronghorn antelope and herds of Tule
elk, make a any proposal for industrial activity there acutely problematic.
Bond points out that "thousands of acres outside the Monument boundaries
have already been severely impacted by oil and gas operations, which is
why the National Monument is so important to these species."
Vintage proposes to use thumper trucks, which deploy seismic equipment
to transmit powerful vibratory sound waves deep into the earth. Additional
exploration would involve dynamiting and drilling exploratory wells, all
within the known range of the endangered giant kangaroo rat -- which burrows
underground and thumps to communicate -- and all obviously highly destructive.
The Bureau of Land Management is tasked with protecting the natural and
cultural "objects" – plants, animals, glyphs, geological
features — of the Monument. "Thumper trucks, underground explosions,
and all the other exploratory activities are going to disturb the objects,"
said Cal French, Chair of the Sierra Club’s California-Nevada Regional
Conservation Committee. "If Vintage then finds enough to start drilling
wildcats, then a whole new round of assaults will ensue. If they do find
significant oil, driving along Soda Lake Road will be like a trip from
Maricopa to McKittrick."
Vintage Production does not have a reputation as a good steward of the
land. "They are responsible for last year’s oil spill in the
Los Padres and nearly a dozen others in the forest over the past four
years," said Jeff Kuyper, Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch.
The Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, ForestWatch and many other local,
state and national organizations are committed to the defense of Carrizo
Plain, and will not permit its destruction for a negligible amount of
oil. The BLM must closely scrutinize any exploration applications, finalize
the update of the Resource Management Plan (see "What Carrizo Needs
Now," July 2007 Santa Lucian) and have strong wildlife standards
in place before allowing any exploration.
Carrizo Plain National Monument Overseers
The 180,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument is owned and cooperatively
managed by The
Nature Conservancy the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) and the Department of Fish and Game.
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Carrizo Plain Overview
Pocketed between the coastal ranges of eastern San Luis Obispo County lies
the austere, yet inviting, Carrizo Plain. Here in this remote part of California
where ravens dip and rise with play of the wind and wildflowers color the
hills each spring, it's still possible to look out over hundreds of miles
of open space and to watch stars spread across a dark sky. If you're lucky,
you may even trade glances with a curious kit fox before she ducks underground.
There is, on the Carrizo a wildness--wildness on a scale that allows
us to imagine what much of California was like 300 years ago. Known to
the Spanish as "Llano Estero," or salt marsh plain, this arid and treeless
basin harbors the largest remaining example of habitats that were once
abundant in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Most of the surviving habitat
is protected within the boundaries of the 180,000-acre Carrizo Plain National
Monument where an array of rare plants and animals, including the greatest
concentration of threatened and endangered vertebrates in the state, continue
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An Apparent Past
Physical forces began shaping the Carrizo into a distinct geographic feature
about 30 million years ago. As the bordering Temblor and Caliente mountains
were pushed upward, movements along the San Andreas and San Juan faults
caused the land in between to subside, forming a closed basin. Runoff from
the adjacent slopes collected there creating a vast lake which gradually
filled with rich, soil-forming sediments that support life on the plain
|Soda Lake, the centerpiece of the plain, is all that remains
of this prehistoric sea. One of the largest undisturbed alkali wetlands
in the state, the 3,000-acre lake provides important habitat for migratory
birds, including shorebirds, waterfowl and a quarter of the state's
wintering sandhill crane population. With no outlet, the water that
pools in the lake during the winter evaporates leaving behind a glistening
expanse of sulfate and carbonate salts that appear to ripple and sway
in the heat waves of summer.
|View of Soda Lake
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|The San Andreas Fault, Wallace Creek
||Nowhere does the Carrizo flaunt its geologic past as it does on
the northeastern edge of the plain where the San Andreas Fault
cuts through the foot of the Temblors. Here stream channels suddenly
shift up to one-half mile north as they cross the fault line, and
fault-trimmend ridges rise sharply from plain to form the Panorama
and Elkhorn Hills. This complex and corrugated topography, the most
spectacular along the fault's 650 mile long corridor, is best viewed
in the long, soft shadows of early morning and late afternoon.
Much of the Carrizo's human history, like its geologic past, can be read
directly from the land. The bedrock mortars and elaborate pictographs that
can be seen at Painted Rock provide colorful evidence that both Chumash
and Yokut Indians frequented the area in prehistoric times. Probably attracted
to the game-rich Carrizo grasslands for hunting and gathering as well as
trading and ceremonial purposes, these native peoples experienced an environment
that underwent dramatic changes when herds of livestock from the Spanish
missions began to graze the land in the early 1880s.
Great herds of horses, cattle and sheep thrived on the diverse vegetation.
Eventually this overgrazing destroyed much of the native flora. Seeds
of exotic plants, many of which were inadvertently carried in the hair,
wool and feet of the Spanish livestock, found the overgrazed range a perfect
place to germinate and grow. Today, more than half the grasses and other
flowers that bloom on the Carrizo each spring, as in most grasslands across
the state ar plants native to Europe and Asia.
Dryland grain farming joined ranching as a major human use of the Carrizo
Plain in 1885, when the first homesteaders began to settle here. In was
not until 1912, however, and the advent of mechanized agriculture, that
large-scale farming became possible. In the years between the two world
wars, vast acres of grassland were put under the plow even though the
Carrizo's limited and unpredictable rainfall, averaging 8-10" per year,
made such ventures risky. The plow lines visible along the foothills bordering
the plain serve as reminders of those human days.
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The Underground Landscape
A combination of many burrowing animals, deep-rooted plants and microscopic
organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, make the soil one of the most dynamic
habitats of the Carrizo. Coyotes, kit foxes, ground squirrels and kangaroo
rats are just a few of the animals that excavate burrows to escape predators
and the relentless summer sun. Their old and deserted burrows, in turn,
provide homes for a host of earth dwellers, including the burrowing owls,
blunt-nosed leopard lizards, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and legions bombardier
Burrowing animals do more than find protection when they dig underground.
By turning and mixing large quantities of soil, fertilizing it with their
waste, and dispersing seeds, they also play an important role in maintaining
plant communities on the Carrizo.
Like animals, more than half of the plant life on the Carrizo is hidden
below ground. Native perennial plants, such as common saltbush and desert
needlegrass, survive the drying effects of the Carrizo's sun and wind
by tapping deep water sources with their enormous root systems. This strategy
is markedly different from that of the shallow rooted annual plants, which
escape the Carrizo's harsh environment by flowering, setting seed and
dying before the dry summer heat sets in.
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Looking Back, Going Forward
Current management on the Carrizo is designed to protect the endangered
species and to reverse some of the effects of previous land uses. Areas
once farmed or overgrazed are being revegetated with native grasses, shrubs,
and trees, where they are known to have occurred. Herds of tule elk and
pronghorn, eliminated by uncontrolled hunting in the late 1800s and early
1900s, have been reintroduced to their former range.
Other steps are being taken to restore the Carrizo Plain to pre settlement
conditions. Cattle grazing is being used as a tool to shift the competitive
balance between the exotic annual grasses that come up in the early days
of spring. Before the later blooming native perennials begin their period
of rapid growth the cattle are taken off the range. Years of this type
of management should favor the reestablishment and expansion of the Carrizo's
Natural history studies of the Plain's many imperiled plants and animals
are also underway. This research will help shape management strategies
for sensitive species, like the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the California
jewel flower, on the Carrizo Plain and elsewhere.
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How to Get There
Via Highway 101, take Hwy. 58 east to Santa Margarita. From there travel
51 miles east to California Valley. Turn right on Soda Lake Road and head
south 8 miles to the northern boundary of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Drive another seven miles on Soda Lake Road to reach the Guy
L. Goodwin Education Center for the Carrizo Plains and tours to
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Lodging and Camping Facilities
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- Carrizo Plains Lodge
12906 Soda Lake Road
California Valley, CA 93453
- Selby Campground
Primitive Camping, horse corral
No water, Pit Toilet
- KCL Ranch Campground
No water, Pit Toilet
For more information on the Carrizo Plain National Monument contact the
agencies listed below.
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to Natural Wonders of California's Central Coast.
to Santa Lucia Chapter.
to Sierra Club home page.
Santa Lucia Chapter Sierra Club
P.O. Box 15755
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406
Sierra Club National
85 Second St., Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441, USA.
Telephone 1-415-977-5500 (voice), 1-415-977-5799 (FAX).