The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2015 made major strides toward addressing challenges that require action, analysis and planning across broad landscapes in regard to sage-grouse habitat. The Bureau’s accomplishments over the past year include unprecedented efforts to conserve Greater Sage-Grouse; to devise new approaches to prevent and respond to wildfire; to make land- use planning efforts more timely, science-driven and adaptable; and to protect sensitive resources while enabling responsible energy development. These actions exemplify how the BLM is addressing broad challenges to more effectively meet national, state, and local needs on the national public lands.
“The BLM’s work this year opened a new chapter in how the national public lands are managed on behalf of the American people,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said. “While maintaining our local focus, we are working on a landscape-scale to successfully address complex regional challenges.”
Greater Sage Grouse
The BLM’s update of nearly 70 land use plans across 10 different states served as the critical underpinning for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to keep the Greater Sage-Grouse off of the Endangered Species Act list. The Greater Sage-Grouse conservation effort marked one of the largest land conservation undertakings in U. S. history and resulted from strong and sustained collaboration with state and federal partners and other stakeholders. Completing and implementing the revised land use plans not only ensures that wildlife will continue to thrive but conserves the Western way of life that is intimately linked to these lands.
Wildfire and Restoration
In a parallel effort, the BLM in April began to use a new tool—the Fire and Invasive Assessment Tool (FIAT)—to prioritize efforts to prevent and suppress wildfires in sage-grouse habitat in the Great Basin, a region encompassing most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Using the FIAT, the agency distributed more than $4 million in funding for projects that will reduce the threat of rangeland fire in Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.
In addition, the BLM unveiled the first-ever National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration in August. Developed in coordination with the Plant Conservation Alliance, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, western states, and many others, the strategy aims to ensure that the right seed gets to the right places at the right time. The strategy will also guide ecological restoration efforts and make treated lands more resilient to fires, invasive species and drought.
The BLM put the FIAT and Seed Strategy to work in restoring lands affected by the Soda Fire in Idaho, which burned 280,000 acres in Idaho and Oregon in August. Thanks to close collaboration between federal and state agencies, more than 1.5 tons of seed has been made available to help restore adjacent private lands burned by the fire.
Protecting Critical Landscapes While Allowing Responsible Energy Development
The BLM also adopted a landscape-level perspective in the energy arena, releasing plans to support energy development and conservation.
The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the first phase of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in November was a key part of the BLM’s long-term, collaborative effort with the State of California to streamline renewable energy development while conserving desert ecosystems and promoting outdoor recreation opportunities on 10 million acres of BLM-managed lands in the California desert. The project benefited from high levels of collaboration with partners and extensive public engagement.
The Western Solar Plan, which takes into consideration the complete landscape of six different western states, allows for a more efficient and predictable permitting process by focusing development in solar energy zones with the highest resource potential and lowest conflicts. Thanks to this regional approach, three new projects in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone in Nevada were approved this year in a record-setting 10 months, less than half the amount of time needed to approve projects outside of solar zones. The success of the Dry Lake Solar Zone was due in part to a regional mitigation strategy developed prior to the leasing of the Dry Lake area. Similar Solar Regional Mitigation Strategies are being developed in Arizona, Colorado and Nevada to encourage further use of solar zones established through the Western Solar Plan and to provide for early public input on mitigation needs and requirements.
Improved Land Use Planning
The BLM began a review this year aimed at creating a more dynamic and durable way of developing the Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that guide its efforts. Public involvement early in the planning process is the key to this improved approach, called Planning 2.0. Through this effort the BLM hopes to improve its land-use planning process so that it can more effectively plan across landscapes and be more responsive to environmental and social change. This approach will create a more dynamic, durable and efficient planning process that can better honor the valuable contributions made by the public; non-government organizations; and our partners from state; tribal and local governments; as well as other federal agencies.
Taking a broader look at land-use planning was put into practice this year in Western Oregon when the BLM released alternatives for the management of 2.5 million acres of BLM-administered lands spread across the western side of the state. The Draft RMP/EIS addresses a range of options to guide the management of BLM lands in western Oregon for the purposes of: producing a sustained yield of timber; contributing to the conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species; providing clean water; restoring fire-adapted ecosystems; and coordinating the management of lands surrounding the Coquille Forest with the Coquille Tribe. The BLM will publish the Proposed RMP/Final EIS in spring 2016.
Lastly, the BLM is committed to building on its strong foundation of using science as one of the critical inputs in its decision-making processes. In 2015, the BLM developed the Advancing Science Implementation Strategy. This initiative is closely connected to several other BLM priorities, including Planning 2.0, regional mitigation strategies, and the Greater Sage-Grouse planning effort. As we move into 2016, the BLM will continue engaging in partnerships that align science activities with BLM management needs to produce results that can be readily accessed and applied by BLM managers and staff.
The BLM can count a number of ongoing successes as it continues to take a landscape-level approach and bring the best tools to meet the challenges it faces when managing the public lands in 2016.
Cooperative, multi-partner wildlife conservation efforts were a major success in 2015. This work contributed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination in October that five additional species found on BLM lands were not warranted for listing under the ESA. These include the Sonoran desert tortoise in Arizona; the Goose Creek milkvetch in Idaho, Nevada and Utah; and the Great Basin population of the Columbia spotted frog in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
Maps and data count among the BLM’s ongoing successes as well. The BLM continues to release Rapid Ecological Assessments (REAs) and their underlying maps and data for public use. REAs help land managers and the public assess current resource conditions at large scales. The most recent assessment covers nearly 15.7 million acres of the Madrean Archipelago located mostly in southeastern Arizona. A newly revised data portal contains maps and other information associated with BLM’s REAs and other landscape-scale initiatives.