Faces of Conservation: John Randall

A land of extreme heat and cold, majestic herds of bighorn sheep and a single mountain lion hunts.

John Randall is our lead scientist for southern California. Armed with a PhD in ecology from UC Davis, John has worked to protect California's extraordinary native species for 24 years. He recently relocated to Southern California to better explore both the southern third of the state and northern Baja California, where there is still so much to conserve.

We talked with John about what the Conservancy is doing to protect our magnificent deserts and to plan for the future.  

Desert tortoise.

What’s going on in our deserts?

John Randall:

This region is beloved for its fascinating plants, wildlife and wide vistas. But it has many other uses: Hundreds of thousands of Californians live here, and many more come for recreation; the military trains here; miners, ranchers and farmers work here, too. Increasingly, there’s interest in developing solar, wind and geothermal energy projects.

That sounds like a good thing.

John Randall:

It’s extremely complicated. Renewable energy is an essential part of fighting climate change and meeting our energy needs. But we must ensure that in developing energy we also preserve what we care about and maintain the other uses. This is a challenge facing the entire western U.S. and other parts of the world.

How big is the challenge?

John Randall:

There are currently proposals for more than one million acres of energy developments on public lands in the California deserts. While not all proposals will be approved, these industrial-sized facilities will have lasting impacts. We need to do this right. We can create a model for siting renewable energy and protecting the deserts that the rest of the planet can follow.

You’re a scientist. What are you doing on this project?

John Randall:

I’m leading a team that’s providing scientific analyses to contribute to fact-based solutions. For example, determining how desert plants and animals will respond to projected climate changes will help inform what to protect now for the future.

Are there solutions?

John Randall:

One solution is to develop renewable energy on land with low ecological value—mining-scarred lands or abandoned agricultural fields. These disturbed sites often have roads, transmission lines and a nearby community welcoming employment. By reusing these sites, it’s possible to create sustainable energy sources and protect the desert ecosystems.

And finally, what attracts you to the desert?

John Randall:

Our deserts are probably the largest intact ecosystem in the 48 contiguous states and are among the richest deserts in the world biologically. Some years the desert blooms so spectacularly—these are sights I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.



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