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Sportsmen's Coalition Applauds Solar Energy Plan


A federal plan that outlines utility-scale solar energy development on public lands is drawing praise from the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition due to its "smart from the start" approach and its focus on making responsible solar energy projects part of our national energy policy. The Department of the Interior's release of the final solar programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS, establishes an initial set of 17 "solar energy zones" encompassing 285,000 acres covering six Western states.

The culmination of a two-year development process, the PEIS encourages industry members to develop solar projects inside of the approved zones while also establishing a process for addressing development in "variance zones" occurring outside solar energy zone boundaries.

Emphasizing that the final PEIS is vastly improved from earlier drafts, the SFRED coalition highlighted several positive elements of the plan, including its mitigation framework and adaptive management strategy, as well as its integration of a landscape-level management approach.

"Sportsmen played an important role in formulating the solar environmental impact statement, and several key changes implemented in the final plan reflect our input," said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Responsible Energy Development.

"These changes - which include addressing habitat fragmentation and connectivity issues, refining solar zone acres and ultimately excluding valuable fish and wildlife habitat from what was proposed in the original draft - should help facilitate domestic renewable energy development and minimize conflicts over public lands management, all while ensuring the responsible cultivation of our shared natural resources."

The Interior Department will solicit further input to identify additional solar energy zones, with decision makers in Arizona, California and Colorado being tasked with naming specific areas in their states for expanded project development.

"This is a huge step forward for the Bureau of Land Management, which has tended to address energy development on a project-by-project basis in response to the wants of individual companies rather than the values of the American public or the needs of fish and wildlife," said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation's policy director for public lands.

"By designating solar energy zones and driving development to those zones, BLM is charting a future for America's public lands that includes both plenty of renewable energy and abundant wildlife."

The regional focus of mitigation measures in the PEIS also drew praise from the sportsmen, who commended the plan's integration of public and stakeholder participation. They pointed out that these elements are designed specifically to address impacts to outdoor recreation, including hunting and angling, which often are overlooked in mitigation efforts. Yet they stressed that a key element of the plan's success entails detailed direction for its on-the-ground implementation.

"The BLM engaged the public effectively and developed a well-thought-out decision. To capitalize on this success it is imperative that this new policy include direction for successful implementation," said Brad Powell, Western energy director for Trout Unlimited.

"It must provide greater certainty for the energy industry as well as for sportsmen, identifying places that will not be developed in the near future - as well as areas that will require mitigation measures to reduce impacts to fish and wildlife, hunting and angling, and our valuable recreation-based economy."

The National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited are lead partners in the SFRED coalition. Read "Conserving Lands and Prosperity," a report on the economic value of conserving public lands and recreational opportunities.


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