The Not-so Sunny Side

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Renewable power comes with many benefits. 
The catch is finding ways to make it “smart-from-the-start” when it involves wildlife habitat.

Desert Tortoise, © Justin Ennis / Flickr user Averain

© Justin Ennis / Flickr user Averain

SunZia, a proposed project to run 515 miles of transmission lines across sensitive desert habitat from New Mexico to Arizona, fails on this point, says Defenders’ Eva Sargent. Defenders is urging the Bureau of Land Management not to approve the current plan that would impact the Rio Grande, bisect roadless habitats and cut through the San Pedro River Valley, a major bird migration corridor that provides stopover habitat for 250 bird species and has some of the highest bird, mammal and snake diversity on the entire continent. 

“If SunZia moves forward as it stands, vegetation would need to be cleared and land disturbed to make way for access roads and 135-foot-tall transmission towers,” says Sargent. “The power lines alone would pose a serious collision hazard for birds.” Wildlife that would be harmed by the existing plan includes desert tortoises, southwestern willow flycatchers, Aplomado falcons, pronghorn and wintering cranes. 

“We recognize the need for new transmission lines to increase capacity and enable responsible renewable-energy development in the Southwest,” says Sargent. “But utilities should upgrade existing infrastructure where possible or build new lines along existing highways and utility corridors to keep impacts in one place rather than force wildlife to try to adapt to an entirely new disturbance.”

More Articles from Fall 2013

America’s rich wildlife heritage exists today, thanks—in no small way—to the ESA.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a truly landmark law that solidified our commitment to conserve our nation’s wildlife.
Bison gained rights to some of their old stomping grounds on the Great Plains when the Montana Supreme Court in June reversed a lower court ruling that had prevented their return.
Despite their outsized place in pop culture, great white sharks remain poorly understood.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Mexican gray wolves roamed freely, their howls echoing through the southwest.
Having colorful little fish darting around a home aquarium appears harmless enough, but the hobby can also have hidden environmental costs upstream.
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The prairie pothole region of the Great Plains is the most important and most embattled waterfowl habitat in North America, and it’s long had an ally in the United States Farm Bill—until recently.
Habitat destruction from plowing the land for crops, exotic diseases and widespread poisoning of its prairie dog prey almost caused North America’s only native ferret species to disappear for good.