Las Vegas, NV – Sportsmen from across the Southwest gathered Wednesday in Las Vegas to speak out on the siting of solar energy projects on federal lands and hear from state and federal wildlife agencies and industry officials on plans to develop the facilities while sustaining fish and wildlife resources and public outdoor opportunities.
The Sportsmen Speak on Solar Forum, organized by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, drew hunters and anglers concerned about the impacts on fish and game habitat and sportsmen’s access to public lands as utility-scale solar energy is developed in six Western states.
At the forum, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes and Bureau of Land Management officials discussed the plan for public lands solar development detailed in the recently released supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. Sportsmen’s groups had warned of potential threats to big game and fish habitat and access to public lands under the original draft plan.
“The BLM’s revised plan includes many improvements, including making development off-limits in some areas, that clearly acknowledge sportsmen’s concerns,” said Steve Belinda, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development, a member of the SFRED coalition. “We welcome these changes and appreciate the government’s interest in engaging directly with members of the hunting and angling community in administering America’s solar energy resources.”
“The economic power associated with protecting landscapes is compelling, and no one understands that better than sportsmen,” said Hayes. “Renewable energy development is a key part of the future of the world’s energy economy, but we recognize the importance of developing solar energy resources and practicing conservation simultaneously. That’s why for the first time we have produced a blueprint for landscape-level planning that will help facilitate smarter siting of solar energy projects – laying a solid foundation for an enduring, sustainable solar energy future for our nation.”
“We support the responsible development of renewable energy on our public lands,” said Brad Powell, energy director at Trout Unlimited, a SFRED member. “As the Department of Interior moves forward, it’s important that federal officials avoid the mistakes made developing oil and gas on federal lands.’’
Representatives of SFRED and other sportsmen’s groups urged federal officials to consider the effects of solar facilities on a landscape scale and to safeguard fish and wildlife habitat. They also will air their concerns at a BLM listening session on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, the first of four public meetings on the solar plan the agency will hold across the West.
“Wildlife conservation needs to be elevated to the same level of importance that other land uses have received,” said Vernon C. Bleich, senior conservation scientist with the Eastern Sierra Center for Applied Population Ecology and a speaker at the sportsmen’s forum. “Good hunting is a byproduct of good conservation, and we need to speak with a united voice in our future outreach efforts. The presence of the agencies, groups and individuals at this forum suggests that we can work together to address the impacts of solar energy development on our public lands and natural resources.”
“Hunting and angling groups will continue to work with the Interior Department to ensure that sportsmen’s voices are heard as the plan proceeds,” said Kate Zimmerman, senior policy adviser on public lands for the National Wildlife Federation, an SFRED member.