Mineral extraction faces ban on sage grouse lands

EIS highlights plans to limit licenses given for operations on federal lands deemed important for sage grouse habitat

 

File photo

A sage grouse lek during mating season in Medicine Bow.

The Obama administration released a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) highlighting five plans for limiting mining on federal lands to protect the Greater Sage Grouse Friday, according to documents released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The Administration did not specify which plan it preferred, and it is not clear which, if any, will be adopted by the new Administration after President-Elect Donald Trump is inaugurated. Under the possible plans, there would be no new mining or oil extraction licenses granted on federal lands considered important habitat for the sage grouse, but companies would be able to mine lands where permits are already issued. The plans could affect land in six states, with as many as 265,000 acres of land in Wyoming being exempted from future mining permits for 20 years.

The lands that could be affected in Wyoming are non-contiguous areas in the southwestern area of the state near the Utah border.

In 2015, efforts by conservationists to have the greater sage grouse placed on the federal government's list of endangered species failed, due in part to what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) called an "unprecedented conservation partnership" that had successfully mitigated much of the threat to the sage grouse population. The sage grouse, the USFWS says, are "relatively abundant" and well-distributed across the species' natural range, and the bird is not in danger of extinction now or in the immediate future.


The BLM though says protecting sage grouse habitat is necessary, since inadequacies in regulatory mechanisms was found to be a significant threat to the sage grouse by the USFWS.

"The current application of BLM and Forest Service regulatory authorities falls short of meeting the conservation needs of the species," the draft EIS from BLM says.

When compiling the draft, EIS invited government agencies from all state that might be affected by any future decision to remove mining areas. The BLM invited 19 agencies from the state, including officials from counties that could be affected by the plan. Ten agencies from the State of Wyoming participated in the study, the most of any other state.

The draft EIS, released by the BLM Friday, outlines five possible plans spanning lands in six Western states: Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho. The lands in question total 10 million acres across all the states under the BLM proposal, with 265,085 acres in Wyoming being withdrawn from mining use.

Under plans proposed by the states of Idaho and Nevada, those states would see some higher mineral content lands spared from the mining ban. In exchange, those two states have offered up other lands for mining bans which they say are more ecologically important to the greater sage grouse species.

Another proposed plan is what the BLM calls a "High Mineral Potential Alternative." Under that plan, lands that are mineral rich and ripe for mining would be removed from the sage grouse area, and mining of those areas would be permitted. Under this plan, 558,918 acres of land deemed as having high potential for future mineral extraction would be excluded. Over 9,000,000 acres of land across all six states would be off limits to mining for a period of 20 years under this plan.

A fifth possible plan is the "No action alternative." Under the no-action plan, all areas of all states under consideration would remain open to mining in the six states.

The proposal came on the heels of the Obama administration's creation of two new national monuments in the West during Obama's last days in office, one in Nevada and another in Utah. Because the BLm will be holding a 90-day comment period on the draft EIS for sage grouse, the Trump administration will be in the White House when the next phases of the process begin.

It is unknown what the new Trump administration will decide for the mining restrictions. Regardless of what the Trump administration decides in the future, under the proposed plan, the impact on mineral extraction in Wyoming will be minimal, according to the BLM. Based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, there would be 1,328 acres of "High Mineral Potential" land in the state of Wyoming that could be affected if the BLM proposal is accepted. Nearly 109,00 potentially affected acres in Wyoming are considered "moderate probability" land for economic mineral extraction, with the rest of the land in Wyoming considered "low probability" or "no potential or not determined."

The BLM will accept comments from the public regarding the proposal until March 30, 2017. Those wishing to comment can email their comments to sagebrush_withdrawals@blm.gov or go the BLM's website at https://www.blm.gov/node/3282. Comments can also be mailed to Mark Mackiewicz at Bureau of Land Management, 125 South 600 West, Price, UT 84501.

A public meeting will be held in Wyoming 5-7 p.m. Feb. 15, 2017, at the BLM Rock Springs Field Office, 280 Highway 191 North in Rock Springs.

 

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