PIUTE-ELDORADO AREA OF CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Vegas Field Office is beginning the process to develop a management plan for the Piute-Eldorado Valley Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). In 1998, the BLM designated portions of the Piute and Eldorado valleys in southern Nevada as an ACEC to preserve critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). This ACEC also conserves functional corridors of habitat between areas increasing the probability that desert tortoise populations will recover and someday be delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Funding the ACEC Management Plan

Funding to develop and implement the Piute-Eldorado Valley ACEC plan comes from compensatory mitigation fees paid by solar facility developers in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone (SEZ) located northeast of Las Vegas. As stated in the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (2012), the BLM is committed to developing regional mitigation plans for each SEZ. To address potential adverse impacts, the BLM uses a mitigation hierarchy of avoidance, minimization, and offset of unavoidable impacts. For those adverse impacts that cannot be avoided or minimized, the BLM determines appropriate measures to offset or mitigate these impacts in consultation with affected stakeholders.

In the Dry Lake SEZ developers must pay mitigation fees of $1,836 per acre when construction begins and an additional $20 per acre “durability” fee for the duration of the 30-year right-of-way grants. These mitigation fees compensate for permanent impacts to resources within the Dry Lake SEZ that cannot be mitigated onsite including: the loss of creosote-white bursage habitat; the loss of wildlife and plants; disturbance of soils and resulting erosion; removal of biological crusts; and the alteration of the visual landscape from new facilities, transmission lines, and associated features.

The Piute-Eldorado Valley ACEC was chosen as the recipient site for mitigation dollars to balance the loss of habitat and other resources. This ACEC is within the same ecological subregion as Dry Lake and contains similar vegetation communities—specifically the creosote-white bursage community—and provides habitat for a similar suite of wildlife, special status wildlife, and rare plants. The Piute-Eldorado Valley ACEC is also ranked as a higher visual resource management class than the Dry Lake SEZ, so improvements provided by regional mitigation will result in improvements to the viewshed.