The Interior Department’s final plan for large-scale solar energy development on public lands is an important milestone because of its emphasis on front-end, landscape-level planning and consideration of the effects on fish and wildlife, a sportsmen’s coalition said.

The release Friday of a plan that establishes 17 zones for solar energy development over 285,000 acres in six Western states is the culmination of about two years of work. The federal strategy comprises three main components: solar energy zones where development is welcome; areas where development is prohibited; and areas where development could occur under certain conditions.

Hunters and anglers from across the region helped shape and improve the plan through input on fish and wildlife habitat and where development is and isn’t appropriate.

As a result of the sportsmen’s input, the solar energy zones were refined, concerns about fragmenting habitat were addressed and valuable habitat was excluded, according to Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. The coalition, led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, sponsored a forum last December to give top Interior officials and hunters and anglers a chance to discuss the proposal.

“Sportsmen played an important role in formulating a utility-scale plan for solar energy development on public lands via the solar programmatic environmental impact statement,” said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Responsible Energy Development. “Now, however, we want to see the proverbial rubber hit the road – via consistent implementation of the EIS, including exclusion of development in key areas of fish and wildlife habitat identified by hunters and anglers.”

Many of the nation’s premier fisheries and most of the valuable big-game habitat are found on public lands in the West, SFRED members noted. The lands are crucial to maintaining healthy habitat for fish and wildlife, supporting hunting and fishing and providing sustainable jobs and revenue for communities. The blueprint for solar energy development takes into account the importance of public lands by including a framework to avoid and minimize impacts on fish and wildlife and a process to allow development outside the established energy zones.

“The BLM engaged the public effectively, and the result is a well-thought-out plan that will provide greater certainty for the industry as well as hunters, anglers and recreationists who highly value our public lands,’’ said Brad Powell, Western energy director for Trout Unlimited.

Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s policy director for public land, said the planning document is a big step forward because it takes a big-picture look that better assesses the cumulative impacts than the typical project-by-project approach.

“Designating solar energy zones and driving development to those zones will help ensure there’s room for renewable energy on America’s public lands as well as abundant fish and wildlife,’’ Zimmerman added.

Image courtesy Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development

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