The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has identified more than 237,000 acres of public land in the American Southwest that they believe are perfect fits for large-scale renewable energy developments like wind farms and solar energy plants.
But along the Colorado River, some Native American tribes object to such developments because it will disrupt areas the tribes have held sacred for hundreds of years.
The La Posa Plain, an undeveloped stretch of land between mountains known as a viewshed, is slated to receive a 653-foot solar tower next year, pending approval from the BLM. La Posa Plain is an area where many prehistoric artifacts have been discovered over the years as well.
John Bathke serves as the historic preservation officer for the Quechan Indian Tribe and said that archeological discoveries on the land range from “stone flakes to make a stone tool or a village site.” Bathke said that over the years, many tribes inhabited the region and came to “trade, live, sing, worship.”
But the proposed solar tower–part of the Quartsize Solar Energy Project–could be seen from sacred viewsheds that are treasured by different tribes. Since these tribes don’t own the land, there is little they can do to halt the construction process. Although the BLM consults with the tribes as a courtesy to evaluate the historical and spiritual significance of lands they are surveying, in reality, the tribes feel their objections are generally disregarded.
Bathke said, “Many of us – not just Quechans – feel like our concerns aren’t being taken seriously.” He added that the BLM takes several years to compile information regarding a particular project, but only gives the tribes 30 days to review the reports and respond with any concerns.
The Quechan tribe among others is calling for more collaboration with the federal government, and actively opposes two other major solar developments in addition to the Quartsize Solar Energy Project. For his part, Bathke sees the irony in this.
“Renewables are in agreement with a lot of traditional Native American values, such as developing a responsible relationship with the earth,” he said. “But ideally we’d like to see projects on disturbed land that doesn’t disrupt traditional viewsheds.”