San Joaquin kit foxes, © USFWS

Fighting For the Future of Panoche Valley Wildlife

The Panoche Valley is a unique California treasure – and one that should be protected. Located 30 miles south of Los Banos and 60 miles west of Fresno, the Panoche Valley represents a lost landscape in California’s busy and fragmented Central Valley and surrounding foothills – a bucolic valley of open grasslands dotted with small ranches and family-owned organic farms. This area is a landscape lush with a diversity of wildlife found nowhere else.

Giant kangaroo rat, © George Harrison/USFWS

Giant kangaroo rat, © George Harrison/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified the Panoche Valley as one of only three core areas left in California necessary for the survival and recovery of the highly endangered San Joaquin kit fox, the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and the endangered giant kangaroo rat. Though they are now missing from most of their former range, these three native species can be found living in relatively healthy populations in the Panoche Valley. In fact, of the three core recovery areas for these endangered species, the Panoche Valley is the only one remaining largely intact. The other two core recovery areas (the Carrizo Plain and Western Kern) have been impacted by energy development. On top of that, both those areas are expected to become less hospitable for these species due to climate change impacts. There is no other habitat left for these species. The Panoche Valley is it.

The Panoche Valley is also a globally recognized Audubon Important Bird Area and a refuge for many other rare species, including: mountain plover, burrowing owl, short-eared owl, long-eared owl, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, loggerhead shrike, grasshopper sparrow, tricolored blackbird, Northern harrier, Swainson’s hawk, white-tailed kite, Oregon vesper sparrow, and more. Birdwatchers come from around the world to the Panoche Valley to spy this dizzying array of raptors and other rare birds. And the variety of life here isn’t limited to the skies. Panoche is home to many rare animals, including the short-nosed kangaroo rat, San Joaquin pocket mouse, Tulare grasshopper mouse, tiger salamander, vernal pools, fairy shrimp and a number of rare plants.

Blunt-nosed leopard lizard, © Gavin O'Leary/CDFW

Female blunt-nosed leopard lizard, © Gavin O’Leary/CDFW

Unfortunately, all of these species are facing an immense threat. The Panoche Solar Farm, a 339 mega-watt solar photovoltaic energy facility, would destroy 2,506 acres (3 square miles) in the heart of the Panoche Valley.

This week, Defenders of Wildlife joined with the Sierra Club and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society to file a lawsuit in state court to stop the Panoche Solar Farm, which is owned in part by the one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the country, Consolidated Edison (also known as Con Edison).

I’d like to emphasize here that Defenders and our partners continue to fight the effects of climate change in our work. Our changing climate is one of the greatest threats of our time, to humans and wildlife alike. However, in order for renewable energy projects to be truly green, we need to make sure they happen in the right places. Defenders has been working for nearly a decade to identify areas for renewable energy development that will not jeopardize the existence of wildlife we are working so hard to protect.

As we have been pointing out to the project developer for several years, there are better places for this project to go. Since 2010, Defenders has made clear to the developer many times that we are opposed to any size project in the Panoche Valley. We have also suggested other locations for this project in areas with fewer impacts on wildlife, including the Westlands Water District. These heavily damaged and water-deficient former agricultural lands are located just over the hills to the east and hold almost no value for native wildlife.

Over the years, the proposal for the Panoche project has become slightly smaller in size. The developer has also proposed to mitigate the project by securing a large amount of nearby land for conservation. But no amount of mitigation can remedy the fact that development on the floor of the Panoche Valley will eliminate the genetically unique populations of wildlife that live there. And it will preclude any hope of recovering San Joaquin kit fox, blunt nosed leopard lizard and giant kangaroo rat for the future.

In filing our lawsuit, Defenders is working to ensure that this project is stopped before it can put the Panoche Valley and its unique wildlife in danger. And, with our work to direct developers to better locations, we are working to keep other projects from doing the same in other, equally valuable landscapes. We can fight climate change with cleaner energy without sacrificing our wildlife and habitats.

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24 Responses to “Fighting For the Future of Panoche Valley Wildlife”

  1. Richard Spotts

    Many thanks for your diligent and commendable work to protect Panoche Valley wildlife. There are obviously much better locations for this massive proposed solar farm. In addition to the lawsuit, are there any opportunities for wildlife activists to send emails or otherwise put pressure on the Con Edison management?

    • Kim Delfino

      Richard, Good to hear from you!! Please send emails to ConEd. Ask them to move the project from this special place! Thanks, Kim

    • Susan Minuto

      Protect wildlife in the Panoche Valley. They deserve the right to have a safe and protected environment!!

  2. Patti Littlecreek

    a cause worth fighting for! Go For IT!!
    We need solar power but locations need to be thought out better. Even putting solar farms in the desert could be a problem, let alone a valley such as this.

  3. glory Hashiguchi

    I love the Kit fox so much that my granddaughter is named Kit Fox. I first learned about the plight of the San Joaquin kit fox from Defenders of Wildlife in a fundraising mail. I fell in love with that adorable large-eared fox and cant imagine that it could be wiped out via extinction. Please support its existence by finding other more appropriate land to build on.

  4. Tara Mueller

    This project is a travesty of the highest proportions. I have been to the Panoche Valley and it truly is one of the most magical places I have ever been. I cannot believe that they are still pushing this monstrous project! Is it even economically viable? Have the wildlife agencies permitted this project yet? Please provide the email names and addresses of people to contact at ConEd. What other things can we do to help? Thanks for posting this and for all you do Kim!

  5. Karen

    It does seem like solar panels could go a million other places instead of this special place. Like on top of parking garages.

  6. Eric R. Eaton

    This is the second horribly inappropriate solar farm plan that I am aware of. The other is by Six Flags Great Adventures in Jackson County, New Jersey, where they plan to level a forest to make way for a sea of panels. The sheer *scale* of projects like this is enormously problematic, and unnecessary. Utility companies need to re-invent their paradigm and model on much smaller, but coordinated, systems. No way should fragile wildlife habitats be needlessly compromised. Financial profits should not trump everything else. You stand to win more allies by abandoning this particular project.

  7. Donna

    Please protect this land from development of any kind. We must protect our wildlife and remaining valley habitats.

  8. Liz Love

    Thank you for taking on this needed action to save a very special place. what can we do specifically to help support your work to protect Panoche Valley?

  9. Janet Robinson

    I do hope you are successful. I’ve such horror stories about solar farms and birds. It’s a difficult balance; we want to get away from fossil fuels yet sometimes, the newer technologies are not compatible with wildlife. While I have never been to that area of California, I’m sure it has diverse wildlife that should be saved so my thanks to you and the other organizations.

  10. paul gallimore

    Hi Donna,
    Thanks so much for bringing this issue to light!
    How about a Defenders email campaign to tell ConEd to consider ecological impacts on the Panoche Valley wildlife and all their projects — on behalf of all their investors and the rest of the biosphere!
    http://www.coned.com/customercentral/contact_form.asp
    Con Edison
    Cooper Station
    PO Box 138
    New York, NY 10276-0138
    With much Gratitude,
    Paul Gallimore, Director
    Long Branch Environmental Education Center
    POB 369 Big Sandy Mush Creek
    Leicester, NC 28748
    Tel. 828/683-3662 Fax: 828/683-9211
    E-mail: paul@LongBranchEEC.org
    Web Site: http://www.LongBranchEEC.org

  11. Arden Allen

    “Our crude civilization engenders a multitude of wants, and law-givers are ever at their wits’ end devising. The hall and the theater and the church have been invented, and compulsory education. Why not add compulsory recreation? … Our forefathers forged chains of duty and habit, which bind us notwithstanding our boasted freedom, and we ourselves in desperation add link to link, groaning and making medicinal laws for relief. Yet few think of pure rest or of the healing power of Nature.” -John Muir, 1938

  12. Teri Xirakis

    I am so grateful for organizations like Defenders, who are identifying threats like these and taking action to avert them. I will continue to make my (modest, alas) donations to your important work and, in this case, I will contact Con Ed to express my views as well. Thank you again for the work you are doing!

  13. peter sabio

    Why cant they put this solar facility in a desert area where wildlife is not so populated?

  14. Philip Ratcliff

    I’ve never heard of the Panoche Valley, until I read this article. I’m glad that a lawsuit was filed to protect it from development.

  15. Rachel Veal

    I worked in Panoche Valley in the summer of 2012. It is a beautiful and truly unique place. I wish I could go now to see the wildflowers!

  16. Dena Dougherty

    I live in Madera Acres and just a few minutes ago I had a beautiful Kit Fox in my front yard. It stopped and looked at me for a few seconds when I softly talked to it and then walked across the lawn and disappeared into the tall grass around the corner. I know that the Kit Fox is an endangered species. Is there anything I should do when I see this little cutie? This is the third time I have seen it in my yard. The last 2 times it was dark and I couldn’t get a good look at it. A friend down the street has seen it a couple of times also. So it is definitely hanging out in the neighborhood. I am praying that a homeowner doesn’t shoot it.

  17. Leda Beth Gray

    Thanks so much for your work on this. I’ve had some incredible birding trips to the panoche valley and would love to visit there again. As well as some of the ones you listed we saw roadrunners, lark sparrows, and mountain and western bluebirds in the same field of view. I would be sick if they were successful in putting a big solar farm in all over that wonderful habitat.

  18. Marcia Schardt

    Kim, what is the current status on the Panoche project ? Thank you for your efforts in defending the environment.

  19. Shawn LaSala-Kimmel

    Dear Kim, In studying the landscape of the Panoche Hills, I found two natural landscape features, both 1000’s of feet in length, that could change how we see landscapes in the future. I believe that these artist treasures could make a huge difference in protecting the land and her animals. I’d be happy to send copies of them to you if you’d like. It may be that great artistic sculptures like these could foster the protection so needed by the treasury of the Panoche. In trust, Shawn

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