"Interior Secretary Sally Jewell unveiled a sweeping conservation plan in Palm Desert on Wednesday, promising to protect millions of acres of California desert while encouraging solar and wind farms in limited areas. But even before federal officials finalized the plan in a signing ceremony at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, renewable energy trade groups were pushing back, saying the new rules and regulations will stifle solar and wind development at a critical moment in the fight against climate change.
Jewell's latest trip to the desert — she was last here in May to celebrate the creation of three national monuments — marks a milestone for the Obama administration, which has been working on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan for nearly eight years. The final plan sets aside 6.5 million acres for conservation and 3.6 million acres for recreation, although some of those areas overlap, and some of them were already managed for conservation. The plan also designates 388,000 acres for clean energy development, 148,000 of which are in eastern Riverside County.
Conservationists hailed the 11-million-acre plan as a major victory for the California desert, one the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states. The millions of acres of protected federal lands are expected to help safeguard at-risk species such as the desert tortoise, Mojave ground squirrel and golden eagle, which face threats ranging from the fragmentation of the desert to the changing climate."