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Renewable energy on public lands

Published March 5, 2011 12:05 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The harsh climates and unforgiving landscapes of the American West spur a can-do attitude among its residents — particularly sportsmen, who revel in the dramatic extremes common to this region. In this spirit of pragmatism, many sportsmen support harnessing the wind and sun to help our country transition to clean energy sources, as long as this development is pursued in careful consideration of our other shared natural resources.

The Interior Department recently released an analysis of which public lands in Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado are most appropriate for solar energy development. One of the proposed alternatives would be to site all projects in 24 priority development areas known as Solar Energy Zones. SEZs are the places with the highest solar potential and minimum impacts to water and wildlife.

From the sportsmen's perspective, this is a common-sense solution that will allow a rapid transition to clean energy while protecting our treasured game species and avoiding the problems of haphazard siting that have plagued oil and gas development in the West.

In fact, by siting projects only within SEZs, we can achieve the development levels predicted by the Interior Department for the next 20 years, using less than 1 percent of public lands in the six states to power over 7 million homes. That is a great return on investment.

The fact is, even clean energy like solar requires significant infrastructure including roads, transmission lines and massive arrays of photovoltaic panels or mirrors. Fortunately, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar understands the Western way of life and the importance of sustaining America's hunting and fishing traditions.

Here are several ideas for how Salazar can lead our transition to clean energy and protect our sporting heritage for the next generation:

Give sportsmen a voice in making decisions. Transparent processes that encourage public comment on important decisions, such as where to locate energy projects, distribution facilities and transmission lines, are essential.

Conserve roadless backcountry, national parks, national wildlife refuges and local and state public lands. Prioritize renewable energy development on disturbed or occupied land where energy infrastructure might already exist.

Conserve habitat for game birds like sage grouse and quail, trout streams, deer and elk winter range, migration corridors and fragile wetland and riparian habitats.

In developing renewable energy on federal public lands, involve state fish and wildlife agencies in decisions. Base decisions about renewable energy development projects on the best available scientific information on local fish, wildlife and waterways.

Strengthen the permitting and leasing process to conserve public land, recognize the value of fish, wildlife and recreation, consider the cumulative effects of development, and balance the multiple uses of these lands.

Monitor impacts to fish, wildlife and water and make adjustments when effects on these resources exceed predetermined thresholds.

Establish a fund to mitigate damage and reclaim affected land and water.

Comply with all relevant environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Hold industry accountable for development costs related to the permitting process, including the time of state and federal wildlife professionals.

With the leadership of Secretary Salazar, collaboration, and consideration of wildlife habitat, we can forge a new path that realizes the tremendous clean energy potential on our public lands and sustains the high quality of life and majestic landscapes and waterways where families have hunted and fished for generations.

These are the places we have a responsibility to protect for our children and grandchildren. Working together, we can ensure they will enjoy them as much as we do now.

Bill Burbridge retired from the U.S. Forest Service in 2001 as regional director of fisheries and wildlife in Ogden. He also served on the board of the Mule Deer Foundation and the Utah Wildlife Federation.






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