Making DOI’s Mitigation Strategy A Reality

In April, we wrote about the Department of Interior’s (DOI) commitment to forge a new policy for mitigating the effects of energy development on public lands. People working for various agencies within DOI have been meeting to discuss how to move last April’s Mitigation Strategy into policy. What a huge and unwieldy proposition—and one we agree is incredibly important.

Brief background: The Energy and Climate Change Task Force sent a report to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell outlining a mitigation strategy and describing, “the key principles and actions we need to take to successfully shift from a reactive, project-by-project approach to more predictable and effective management of the lands and resources that we manage on behalf of the American public.”

BobCatinFortOrd_publicdomain copyMany segments of that American public, including sportsmen, energy industry representatives, conservationists, tribal leaders, and outdoor industry leaders, among others, want DOI to succeed–to achieve better conservation of wildlife, cultural, ecological and scenic resources, while providing more certainty and a faster permitting process for energy developers.

BLM’s National Conservation Lands—28 million acres of the West’s most ecologically and culturally important lands—lie at the conservation heart of all that BLM manages. We see that an improved policy for mitigation has the potential to better protect and provide more funding for much-needed, large-scale habitat restoration projects on the National Conservation Lands—one outcome that could put boots on the ground to help degraded habitat recover and improve wildlife connectivity.

8_sandhillcrane_colt_FWS copyThe road ahead: The Conservation Lands Foundation will stay engaged with BLM’s efforts to craft this new policy. We see it potentially helping BLM shift away from doing isolated restoration projects, and toward planning for more intentional, high-priority projects resulting in long-lasting benefits for habitat connectivity and biodiversity.

Success depends, in part, on a critical concept: that mitigation and land management planning take place for whole landscapes or ecoregions, rather than for jurisdictions or boundaries drawn around field offices. This is commonly referred to as a “landscape-level approach” to planning. The concept isn’t new, and since the 1990s, BLM and many other agencies have had programs that work toward landscape-level land use planning. (Take a look at this BLM web page called “Stories From the Field: Ecosystems” and our recent blog about “Planning 2.0”)

One such effort, started by the Bush Administration, was DOI’s Healthy Lands Initiative, begun in 2007. BLM now has a Healthy Lands Program and has asked state and regional offices to nominate projects, or “focal areas for treatments that are intended to maintain, improve or restore range, aquatic, or forest health; connectivity; or resilience to climate change, fire, and other change agents” as part of its Healthy Lands Program.

13_devils hole pupfish_FWS copyIn the past, funding for projects was granted once a year, and a great deal of the program’s focus was on fire mitigation projects on BLM lands that are not part of the National Conservation Lands. The agency wants to improve on the program by asking for nominations of multi-year projects—perhaps ones that could do more than remove the danger of fire and trend instead toward projects that result in greater landscape resiliency and habitat connectivity on the National Conservation Lands.

CLF will advocate for and help shape BLM’s new mitigation policy; members of the Friends Grassroots Network can take action to help keep “landscape-level” planning ideas at the forefront:

  • Visit with BLM staff in your region and inquire about the Healthy Lands Program.
  • Find out if your local BLM office leadership or state office has prepared nominations for funding (they were due October 10).
  • Ask if these nominations include project money for restoration on the National Conservation Lands, and how your “Friends” groups can play a role. (And let the Conservation Lands Foundation know what you learn. Send an email to char@conservationlands.org)

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(American pika, bobcat, juvenile sandhill crane, devil’s hole pupfish, and desert tortoise photographs courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Posted by Charlotte Overby in Blog & Videos, Restoration
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