Increased Wildlife Protections Secured for California Solar Flats Project in Monterey County

MONTEREY, Calif. – July 14, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Conservation groups have reached an agreement with the First Solar, Inc. to provide additional conservation protections to wild lands and wildlife as part of construction of the California Flats Solar Project, a proposed 280-megawatt solar energy project in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.

The negotiations have resulted in better siting of the project to avoid harming a rare year-round stream and to preserve more than 1,000 acres of adjacent land for wildlife, with a $10.5 million fund to purchase additional land for habitat protection through an independent land trust. These conservation gains are in addition to the several thousand acres of habitat conservation required by Counties. The conservation groups in the agreement are Audubon California, California Native Plant Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.

“First Solar and the conservation organizations worked constructively in reaching an agreement that provides significant new renewable power to California while protecting the environment — exactly the type of result encouraged by the Governor,” said Ken Alex, senior policy advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown and the director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.

The California Flats Solar Project will affect 2,720 acres of important habitat for a number of rare and sensitive plants and animals. The project site is currently part of the 72,000-acre “Jack Ranch,” which is owned by the Hearst Corporation and currently operated as a cattle ranch.

Over recent months, with the assistance of Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, the conservation groups and First Solar, developer of the California Flats project, have worked together to design and implement strategies to protect and enhance the important habitat in the vicinity of the project in order to better balance environmental impacts of the project while allowing new sources of renewable energy to be built.

This agreement will result in significant environmental benefits, including:
Permanent protection of Cottonwood Creek, a rare year-round stream that provides important breeding habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. Protections include reductions in grading and project construction impacts, limits on use of potentially toxic dust-control measures, and reductions in grazing impacts on the creek.
A conservation easement on 1,070 acres of the Jack Ranch for the protection of grassland species. The conservation easement includes federally designated critical habitat for red-legged frogs and California tiger salamanders.
California Flats will fund $10.5 million to be administered by an independent land trust for the acquisition and perpetual conservation of lands benefitting those species affected by the project (including an endowment for management of the lands), particularly endangered San Joaquin kit fox, golden eagles, California red-legged frogs, burrowing owls and sensitive native plants.
Protections for San Joaquin kit fox, golden eagles, California red-legged frog and other wildlife from the use of highly toxic rodenticides and lead ammunition that wildlife accidentally ingests.
“This project raised a number of concerns about the potential impacts to Golden Eagles at the site,” said Garry George, Renewable Energy Director, Audubon California. “This agreement calls for important compensation for the loss of nesting and foraging habitat, which is good news for one of California’s most iconic birds.”

“As California makes a rapid transition off climate-disrupting fossil fuels, it’s crucial to do so in a way that also protects wildlife and important wild places.” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We all support the development of renewable energy in California as a way to reduce carbon emissions and rapidly transition off of climate disrupting fossil fuels,” said Kim Delfino, California Program Director, Defenders of Wildlife “But renewable energy projects, like other forms of industrial development, must be designed sustainably and sited correctly to ensure that endangered species like the San Joaquin kit fox continue to survive and thrive in the face of climate change.”

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Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 200,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

The California Native Plant Society is a non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve California’s native plants and their natural habitats. Formed in 1965, CNPS’s 10,000 members in 35 chapters promote public education about native plants and the use of sound plant science in the conservation of natural areas across California and Baja California, MX.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.
With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org

The Sierra Club is a national nonprofit organization of approximately 2.5 million members and supporters dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth.

Contact:
Garrison Frost, Audubon California, (510) 601-1866, ext. 225, gfrost (at) audubon (dot) org
Greg Suba, California Native Plant Society, (916) 447-2677
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943, ianderson (at) biologicaldiversity (dot) org
Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife, (916) 201-8277, kdelfino (at) defenders (dot) org
Sarah Friedman, Sierra Club, (215) 300-8572, sarah.friedman (at) sierraclub (dot) org

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