CNPS Sues Santa Barbara County Over Approval of Flawed Wind Energy Project
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Liv O’Keeffe
916-447-2677, ext. 202
Feb. 28, 2020, Sacramento — The California Native Plant Society sued the County of Santa Barbara today for approving the Strauss Wind Energy Project, which violates both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and California Fish and Game Code. The project threatens the federally- and state-endangered Gaviota tarplant with extinction and puts the local golden eagle population, a state Fully Protected Species, at risk.
The Strauss project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) fell short on its analysis of the project’s impacts based on CEQA standards and failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives, according to CNPS.
CNPS appealed to developers to shift placement of five of the 30 planned towers to avoid the sensitive populations, but the developers pushed for approval of a plan that places towers on top of the endangered plants.
“It’s a shame that this company forced Santa Barbara County to choose between clean energy and the survival of a rare species,” CNPS Executive Director Dan Gluesenkamp, PhD, said. “At a time when we face both a climate and an extinction crisis, we’ve got to do a better job of finding solutions that address both realities.”
CNPS scientists worry the Strauss project could trigger the extinction of a rare sunflower known to occur only in Santa Barbara County, the Gaviota tarplant (Deinandra increscens ssp. villosa). Scientists anticipate the project will impact 80 percent of its largest population, the most important cluster of Gaviota tarplants in the world.
“Santa Barbara County is lucky to have a plant that is found nowhere else in the world, but instead of stewarding it, the county’s leaders are willing to sacrifice its very survival,” CNPS Lead Conservation Scientist Nick Jensen, PhD, said.
The construction project is planned for a remote and wild part of the county. The German company that has pushed for approval of the project promises an investment in renewable energy, and said they will try to save the plants with mitigation measures like salvaging topsoil, replanting bulldozed habitat, and adding drip irrigation. Such measures have never been tested on Gaviota tarplant, Jensen explained, “Similar restoration efforts with other species of tarplants have failed, and so the proposed mitigations are simply too sketchy, too uncertain, and too risky.”
“In my experience, it is effectively impossible to recreate the necessary environment to hope for even a modicum of success with Deinandra [tarplants],” restoration expert and CNPS board member Vince Scheidt said. Scheidt worked on the salvage and translocation of native species for decades, and has first-hand experience attempting to move endangered tarplants. “There are just too many variables.”
The Strauss Project also harms local populations of golden eagle. Recent surveys revealed five eagle nests within 10 miles of the project site, a threshold that would make the project a threat to all eagles within this radius, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Golden Eagles are observed at the Strauss site nearly every day,” said Steve Ferry of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. “Santa Barbara Audubon believes that there will be significant Golden Eagle mortality due to collisions with wind turbines if the Strauss project is built.”
The project’s environmental review identifies golden eagle collisions with Strauss’s wind turbines to be a “significant and unavoidable impact” with “no proven method to prevent such collisions.” Resulting eagle deaths are considered “take” according to California Fish and Game Code and are prohibited under state law.
The Strauss project site encompasses 5,887 acres of rural land and ridges of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Its resident Gaviota tarplant population is the largest in existence, and sustains approximately 99 percent of all the Gaviota tarplants left on Earth.
“The population of Gaviota tarplant in the vicinity of the proposed wind project stands out as particularly distinctive, even when compared with other plant populations,” said Dr. Bruce Baldwin, PhD, curator of UC Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium who has studied tarplants and their close relatives for decades. “Loss of that population would be a tragic setback for conservation.”