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Photo by Tom Grey

Save Panoche Valley - Part 2

Chapter Fights to Save Panoche Valley an Important Bird Area

by Shani Kleinhaus, SCVAS Environmental Advocate

In early September 2011, Superior Court Judge Robert O'Farrell ruled in favor of San Benito County in a lawsuit brought by Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS), Save Panoche Valley (SPV), and the Sierra Club challenging San Benito County's approval of the proposed 4,000-acre solar farm in Panoche Valley and its Environmental Impact Report. On September 13th, the SCVAS Board voted to join Save Panoche Valley in appealing the District Court's ruling to the California Court of Appeal, 6th Circuit, located in San Jose. We are now raising funds for this challenge.

"We have excellent grounds for appeal from both the inadequate analysis of environmental impacts, as well as the unprecedented cancellation of Williamson Act contracts. Our Board wants to ensure we've exercised all of our options to save the biological resources in this extraordinary valley that's seen little change in the last 150 years." said Bob Power, Executive Director for the chapter. "Most of these types of cases are decided on appeal," said Rose Zoia, attorney for the appealing groups. "The law and the facts are on our side in this particular case. Our case is strong."

Panoche Valley, 30 miles east of Hollister, is a throwback to wide open spaces that have disappeared throughout the west. Designated by National Audubon as an Important Bird Area of global significance for its large percentage of the world's over-wintering Mt. Plover population, along with 11 other special status bird species. The Valley has galvanized both farmers and environmentalists beyond the bird community because of its three endangered species: San Joaquin Kit Fox, Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard, and Giant Kangaroo Rat.

Ashok Khosla, President of the SCVAS Board of Directors, stands behind the organization's adopted solar policy: "We can't be trading one extraordinary resource for another. Solar development in urban areas and in retired farming areas with no habitat values, makes for good planning policy and decision-making. Solar development in active, high-quality agricultural areas with extraordinary wildlife value cannot be supported by our chapter."