From solar fields to badgers, desert turtles face many risks
Desert turtles can face quite a difficult life.
Already considered an endangered species Due to human encroachment, the slow-moving reptile faces new risks from solar plants and once-friendly badgers.
The Yellow Pine solar project outside of Parhump will cover over 3,000 acres as it provides enough electricity for 100,000 households. However, this land is already home to desert turtles, and nearly 150 of them have been relocated to allow for construction.
Roy Averill Murray, desert turtle recovery coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said relocating turtles from one area provides an opportunity to reestablish their presence elsewhere.
“We’re looking at areas where we want to have higher turtle populations,” Murray told the state of Nevada. “By adding turtles, we can reinvigorate or increase this existing population.”
Most displaced turtles are equipped with radio transmitters that allow wildlife officers to monitor them. This long-distance monitoring led to the discovery several years ago of a population of Californian turtles which was used as prey by badgers.
Murray said this was surprising as turtles and badgers generally coexist without incident.
“Many desert animals” seek shelter from the heat in burrows, so badgers will use turtle burrows, “he said.” They will cohabit very well together most of the time. “
He said the problem of badgers attacking turtles has arisen again recently after the reptiles were moved from the solar power plant site.
“Shortly after the transfer from Yellow Pine, again, one or two badgers apparently decided they were hungry for the turtles,” Murray said.
He said about 30 turtles have been lost to badgers this spring, but none have been killed in a month.
Nevada’s two-decade drought could have played a role in turtle deaths, says the founder of an environmental group.
“Badgers are not known to commonly attack desert turtles,” said Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch. “It is possible that the drought conditions caused them to take extreme measures.”
Emmerich said Nevada’s expected rush of solar development could pose serious risks to the turtle, which the federal government declared endangered in 1990.
âThere are four other major solar applications in the region,â he said. “We are obviously very worried.”
Basin and Range Watch argues that the path to a renewable energy future lies closer to home.
“We must not place large-scale solar projects on healthy and functioning scrub in the Mojave Desert that is turtle habitat,” said Laura Cunningham, also co-founder of the group. âPut these solar projects on rooftops, on carports and on already disturbed land. “
Emmerich told the state of Nevada that the drought toll in the desert can easily be seen.
âThroughout most of the Joshua tree range, with the possible exception of a few populations in the north, we see areas on the bark completely eaten by rodents. And these rodents are looking for moisture, âhe said. âIf you go out and look in the desert and look at a lot of shrubs, they just don’t leaf out. And because of that, there just isn’t much food for other organisms and animals.
Murray of the Fish and Wildlife Service said he and his team had not gone the extra mile to protect the remaining turtles, but were watching them. One suggestion for protecting turtles is to coat their shells with something badgers find unpleasant.
âThis is one of the things we thought about after it happened,â he said.