BLM Awarded for Excellent Achievements in Conservation

Dec 29, 2008

DENVER – The last year has been rough on our public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some of the region’s most pristine unprotected wildlands have been leased for oil and natural gas development or opened to motorized vehicle use. But there were some victories in 2008, and one of them was in your backyard. The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center has ranked the year’s most positive developments on BLM land throughout the West by bestowing each one with our CAPE award – that stands for Comparative Analysis of Particular Excellence.

If the BLM received a CAPE award, it means the agency, usually on a local level, made a decision that stands out for its attention to conservation values. One CAPE means we’re patting the BLM on the back for their achievement. Five CAPEs mean we’re recognizing the agency for superb progress in conservation. Here are this year’s recipients:

Carrizo Plain National Monument (CA): BLM Requires Preparation of an EIS in Order to Evaluate Request to Conduct Seismic Oil and Gas Exploration in the Monument (3 CAPEs)

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is the largest undeveloped remnant of the San Joaquin grassland ecosystem, providing habitats that are essential for the many endemic and endangered plant and animal species that inhabit the area, including the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and giant kangaroo rat. Soda Lake, one of America’s largest undisturbed alkali wetlands, provides an important habitat for migratory birds, including sandhill cranes and long-billed curlews. Wilderness quality lands in the Temblor and Caliente mountain ranges and important Native American cultural sites are also protected within the monument. After receiving a peremptory notice from a leaseholder seeking approval to conduct seismic exploration for oil and gas the BLM recognized the risk of damage to fragile monument values and is requiring preparation of an environmental impact statement to determine necessary protections. The agency has taken an important step toward continued protection of these natural, cultural and recreation resources of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

As the BLM completes the draft monument management plan, our hope for the coming year is that the agency will continue to recognize the ecological and economic importance of the monument objects and will develop a plan which continues to exhibit the high level of care deserved for one of America's natural and historical treasures.

Glenwood Springs (CO): Resource Management Plan Revision Involves Balanced Resource Advisory Council Subgroup Throughout Process (2 CAPES)

The more than 500,000 surface acres managed by the Glenwood Springs Field Office contain a host of resources valued statewide – including citizen-proposed wilderness areas, hunting and other recreational activities benefitting from its scenery and naturalness. This field office was also identified as a pilot project office under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, based on expected demand to develop oil and gas resources in this area. In an effort to involve the range of interests in the RMP revision, the BLM, working with the Northwest Resource Advisory Council (RAC), has created a subgroup to provide community input to the agency during the process. Created after the close of the scoping process, this RAC subgroup includes a balance of interests from people who value these public lands for their recreational, scientific and business values and has been involved in all aspects of the revision, including working on development of management alternatives.

We hope as the draft and then final plans are prepared, the BLM will continue to work with the RAC subgroup and consider the many values of these lands. The Glenwood Springs RAC subgroup has been cited as an example for subgroups working on the Kremmling RMP revision and White River RMP amendment. We hope that these two subgroups, as well as the subgroup created for the Grand Junction RMP revision, take note and follow this example, as well, to make the most of this opportunity to obtain additional input from the public

Agua Fria National Monument (AZ): Prioritizing Monument Objects in the Proposed Resource Management Plan (4 CAPEs)

Established in 2000, the Agua Fria National Monument contains a high density of prehistoric and historic sites as well as outstanding biological resources. Remnants from ancient pueblo communities are scattered throughout this desert grassland which also provides habitat to a wide array of sensitive wildlife species. These are all objects of interest listed within the proclamation establishing the monument and are to be prioritized for protection above all other uses. In August 2008, the BLM released its proposed resource management plan for the monument. This plan contains many decisions that will afford real protections to the monument objects and values for decades. Some of the protective decisions include:

  • Designating a significant portion (81 %) of the monument as a backcountry zone and managing this area to maintain the natural character of the landscape.
  • Designating wilderness quality lands as either lands maintained for wilderness character or within the backcountry zone.
  • Identifying tributaries of the Agua Fria River as eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic River Act.

While many protective decisions were made, there are even more protective prescriptions that would have been appropriate for the proper management of a national monument, including the closing of more routes that have led to illegal trash dumping and degrade cultural resources. We hope to see active monitoring of such use and the closure of destructive routes as this plan is implemented.

John Day Basin (OR): Resource Management Plan Proposes Strong Protections for Wilderness Quality Lands (2 CAPEs)

The BLM manages nearly 500,000 acres of land in northern Oregon’s John Day Basin. Situated in the Blue Mountains and Columbia Plateau, this newly consolidated resource area spans sagebrush shrublands and conifer forest as well as a significant portion of the North Fork John Day River. In the Draft RMP, the BLM designated 80% of the lands it found to have wilderness characteristics for special management to protect those qualities, and offered these important places some of the strongest protections we’ve seen on BLM lands. Under all alternatives, 11,929 acres of pristine wildlands will be protected from damage caused by off-road vehicles, oil and gas development, road-building and powerline construction.

We hope as the plan moves into its final stages, the BLM will more closely evaluate its wilderness-quality lands and substantially increase the acreage protected, reflecting wild lands inventoried by conservation groups.

Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (ID): Resource Management Plan Makes Important Commitments to Protect Additional Resources (2 CAPEs)

Home to one of the world’s densest populations of nesting raptors, the Snake River Birds of Prey NCA was created to protect the roughly 800 pairs of falcons, eagles, hawks and owls which mate and raise their young in the area. Though BLM primarily manages the area to ensure the long-term health and viability of these raptor populations, the agency’s recently completed RMP revision also prioritized protection of some of the area’s other natural resources. Recognizing the value of a healthy, interconnected ecosystem, BLM has taken the opportunity provided by the discovery of a new species in the NCA to manage the ecosystem for its protection. The giant fairy shrimp was recently discovered and is only known to exist in the NCA. The Record of Decision for the RMP revision states that “giant fairy shrimp habitat would be managed with protection of the fairy shrimp as a priority.” The BLM also commits to using adaptive management to ensure the continued viability of the species. This type of protective management to preserve the many resources on our public lands highlights the agency’s ability to meet its conservation mandate.

As more information is learned about the giant fairy shrimp and other resources in the NCA, we hope to see the BLM fulfill its commitment to continued protective management.

Rio Puerco Field Office (NM): Committed to Developing a Comprehensive Travel Management Plan, Conducting a Visual Resource Inventory, and Prioritizing Public Involvement in their Resource Management Plan Revision (1 CAPE)

Encompassing the pristine wildlands of the Ojito, Cebolla, and West Malpais Wilderness Areas, ancient cultural resources, and prime habitat for pronghorn, mule deer, elk, mountain lion, and many other wildlife, the public lands in the Rio Puerco Field Office offer residents of the Albuquerque area countless opportunities to enjoy their natural landscapes. As part of their RMP revision, the BLM has made important commitments to supporting and sustaining the many values of the area. By undertaking a comprehensive reassessment of the area’s visual resources, the agency will gather important information on the area’s many striking vistas, allowing proactive management to protect beautiful and undisturbed views. With Albuquerque’s rapidly growing population and increasing pressure from off-road vehicle use impacting wildlife, cultural resources, and opportunities for quiet recreation, sustainable travel management will be critical to the long-term viability of the area’s resources. Committing to developing a comprehensive travel management plan to designate routes as part of the RMP will allow the BLM and the public to address this issue throughout the planning process. Further, the agency’s efforts to include the public in the planning process thus far also indicate a prioritization of public involvement in the BLM’s planning.

The BLM Action Center hopes that the agency will also commit to the protection of lands with wilderness characteristics, designate additional areas for special management, such as special recreation management areas and areas of critical environmental concern, and give the public ongoing opportunities to comment on travel planning and a preliminary range of management alternatives.

Solar Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS): Supporting Renewable Energy Through a Comprehensive Approach, Considering Protection for Lands with Wilderness Characteristics – (4 CAPEs)

Our public lands will play an essential role in the development of renewable energy. The BLM has taken an important step towards facilitating responsible renewable energy development by undertaking a PEIS to manage solar development on BLM lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. By developing a PEIS to manage this new use of our public lands, we hope the BLM will be able to facilitate rapid and sustainable solar development which also protects the clean air and water, wildlands and wildlife, recreation opportunities, and many other resources on our public lands. Protecting wilderness quality lands is a critical component of this effort, and the BLM Action Center is encouraged by the agency’s recognition that it has “the authority to develop protective management prescriptions for lands with wilderness characteristics within RMPs,” and its commitment to “consider public input regarding lands to be managed to maintain wilderness characteristics,” in the notice of intent to prepare the PEIS.

Though additional protections will be necessary to create a truly sustainable solar development program, the BLM has taken an important first step. We hope that the BLM will uphold and build upon the commitments made for protection thus far, avoiding the mistakes of the agency’s oil and gas program and ensuring the quick and intelligent transition to a clean energy economy preserves the wild places that help keep American communities safe, healthy, and prosperous.

Sonoran Desert National Monument (AZ): Taking Proactive Steps to Protect the Monument’s Natural and Cultural Objects of Interest (4 CAPEs)

The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse of all North American deserts. The national monument, established in 2001, was created to protect the many objects of interest found on this unique landscape such as the saguaro cactus forests, Sonoran pronghorn, and significant archaeological and historic sites. BLM is in the process of drafting a resource management plan for the entire monument that will guide the agency in managing the area for two decades. Due to staff turnover and other factors, the release of the draft plan has been delayed from its originally-planned date in 2006. In the meantime, off-road vehicle abuse has lead to significant damage to monument objects and resources that the monument was created to protect. Recognizing this problem, in May 2008, the BLM issued a temporary route closure for 88 miles of road in a 55,000 acre area of the monument in order to protect monument objects and to allow these lands to be restored to their natural state. The BLM Action Center hopes to see similar protections for the monument in the draft RMP when it is released.

While closing the area will help protect the monument, we have serious concerns about the recreation plan that the BLM proposed to accompany this closure and do not see the necessity for this plan, which incorporates the seemingly conflicting goals of enhancing opportunities for motorized use while attempting to restore the ecological health of the area. Restoring this area should take priority and is most consistent with the goals of this national monument.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (CO): Taking a Landscape Level Approach to Managing Important Cultural Resources (3 CAPEs)

According to the presidential proclamation establishing the monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado “evokes the very essence of the American Southwest.” Prized by cultural experts for generations, this landscape contains the highest known density of archaeological sites in the nation. In reviewing the BLM’s draft RMP for the monument, we were pleased to see the highly important cultural resources in this plan being managed within the context of communities of sites rather than individual cultural resource sites. This will allow the BLM to manage and protect the cultural sites and the landscape in which they are located from a holistic point of view, including taking into account the relationships among cultural groups and the occupation and use of a geographical area, rather than narrowly focusing on just individual sites.

We fully support the BLM’s use of the community concept in managing cultural resources. However, we hope the BLM will work to further define this concept in the proposed RMP in order to provide a clearer picture of how this will work during implementation, including in active management of oil and gas development and motorized use.