Daggett Solar Project Could Destroy Dozens of Ancient Creosote Rings 2,000 to 4,000 Years Old
Updated: Oct 30, 2019
According to award-winning desert naturalist, Pat Flanagan, board member for the Morongo Basin Conservation Association (MBCA), she found creosote rings on the project site for the Daggett Solar Power project that was recently approved by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission. Creosote rings occur when a creosote bush clones itself and grows into a ring as all the same organism. The oldest identified creosote ring is King Clone, thought to be approximately 11,700 years old. King Clone is part of a protected area, the Creosote Rings Preserve, in the Johnson Valley area of the Mojave Desert.
Approximately 70 ancient creosote rings have been identified on 300 acres at the project site, Flanagan said. Her investigations indicate they range from 2,000 to 4,000 years old. Should the project proceed, these ancient desert residents will not be protected. The creosote rings are part of a plant/soil/fungal community that pulls carbon from the atmosphere and stores it underground in caliche. When the creosote rings are killed or destroyed, not only does carbon sequestration by this community stop, but previously captured carbon is released.
"Approximately half of the Daggett Solar Project’s 3500-acre desert site is intact old growth creosote and saltbush scrub," Flanagan noted in comments to the Planning Commission. "A clonal ring is a group of genetically identical plants that grow from a single original plant. In the Final EIR’s response to MBCA, 70 clonal rings over 10 feet in diameter were identified on the 294 acres between Minneola and Hidden Valley Rd. With Google Earth’s ruler, I measured the diameter of 7 clonal rings and calculated their ages using the radial growth rate determined by Dr. Frank Vasek of UC Riverside. The estimated ages of these creosote rings range from 2600 to 4200 years old... For millennia these creosotes have performed the valuable Ecosystem Services of:
Preventing dust storms
Making a living glue that binds soil particles together, preventing wind and water erosion
Holding dangerous particulate matter in the soil so we don’t breathe it
Capturing and storing carbon underground in living systems that continue the storage even after they die as long as they are not disturbed
Capturing and storing carbon underground in caliche if the soil is not disturbed."
Flanagan explained the 2007 General Plan Desert Conservation Goal 1 is to "Preserve the unique environmental features and natural resources of the Desert Region," while 1.3 "Requires retention of existing native vegetation for new development projects, particularly Joshua trees, Mojave yuccas and creosote rings." But having identified the ancient creosote rings within the project boundaries, San Bernardino County's response was “The project development requires removal of these creosote rings and will obtain the necessary plant removal permit.”
Once again, San Bernardino County ignored its own plans and goals, willing to decimate ancient desert creosote rings and their carbon sequestering ecosystem, in order to facilitate a power project with an expected lifespan of 20 to 30 years.
"As part of the State’s commitment to global warming the CEQA process requires both consideration of project related carbon emissions AND the loss of carbon sequestration when the underground rhizosphere is disturbed," Flanagan noted for the Planning Commission. "Neither the Draft or Final EIR discuss this loss of carbon sequestration."
Flanagan urged the Planning Commission to deny certification of the final EIR because of this violation of CEQA and "other CEQA deficiencies." The Planning Commission ignored the demonstrated CEQA violations and approved the project.
Mojave Watch will have additional reporting and updates on the Daggett Solar Power project as it heads to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors for final approval. Please follow our updates for information on how to have your voice heard on this project.