San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan

San Joaquin Kit Fox and Monitoring Plan

Synopsis
The Topaz Solar Farm (TSF) Project (Project) is a 550 megawatt photovoltaic (PV) power facility proposed by Topaz Solar Farms LLC (Applicant) that would be constructed on approximately 3,500 acres of land in the northern California Valley area of the Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County (Figure 1). A Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) is currently being prepared by San Luis Obispo County that includes two TSF Project layout options: Option A and Option B, and several alternatives, including Alternative 3B. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will evaluate Option A and Option B within two alternative study areas
Alternative 3B is a 3,500 acre environmentally superior alternative that is an alternative to the Option A layout, and is situated within the Option A Study Area. The total land area included in baseline studies conducted for this report includes the combined Option A and Option B Project Study Areas (together, referred to as Project Site) of approximately 10,000 acres (refer to Figure 2). This San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan (CMP) provides conservation measures that address effects to this federally listed species that may result from installation and operation of Alternative 3B.
The San Joaquin Kit Fox
The San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) is a federally listed endangered and state listed threatened species that is known to inhabit the Project Site. Kit fox presence was verified by DNA analysis of fecal samples (scat) collected throughout the Project Site (Althouse and Meade 2010a, Smith 2010, Maldonado 2010). Kit fox presence was also assessed by direct observations of kit fox at active dens, remote camera capture of kit fox, and occurrence of active and inactive dens observed during transect surveys (Althouse and Meade, Inc. 2010a).
The Project Site is located near the Carrizo Plain National Monument core SJKF population, which is one of three core populations in California. All three core populations are geographically distinct, and together with about a dozen smaller satellite populations comprise the entire SJKF metapopulation. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognizes that recovery of the SJKF requires simultaneous action on two tracks: 1) habitat protection and enhancement of core populations and movement corridors, and 2) continued research on population ecology and management strategies (USFWS 1998). The CMP proposes measures to meet both of these goals within and in the vicinity of the TSF Project by establishing prescribed management for kit fox on thousands of acres and conducting an innovative scat study of the kit fox population as part of the kit fox monitoring program (Section 6.4.13).
San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan 1 Topaz Solar Farm
Althouse and Meade, Inc.
Conservation Strategy

The TSF Project could potentially result in adverse effects to the SJKF and its habitat. To off-set the potentially adverse effects of the project on SJKF, the Applicant has worked with regional SJKF experts (the TSF Project Kit Fox Conservation Team) to develop a multi-level conservation strategy that consists of avoiding and minimizing Project effects on SJKF by utilizing SJKF friendly design features, implementing a SJKF protection plan during construction, installing on-site habitat enhancements, monitoring on-site kit fox, and protecting off-site SJKF habitat in perpetuity.
The multi-level conservation strategy protects kit fox during construction, provides movement corridors and porous boundaries to facilitate long-range dispersal and short- range movements through and around the TSF Project, and provides a safe haven for SJKF habitation within the TSF Project footprint. It also contemplates conservation of off-site lands to compensate for actual and potential loss of usable SJKF habitat. Some of these off-site lands provided for SJKF conservation may also meet conservation goals for other rare and endangered species, assuming the land is compatible for multiple species. A monitoring and research program to track SJKF use of the TSF Project described in this document will provide important information for management of SJKF on the TSF Project lands. This strategy is consistent with USFWS recovery goals for SJKF.
SJKF Design Features
Early in the planning process the Applicant decided to design a project to accommodate SJKF movement through, and habitation within, the TSF Project footprint. Consultation with the TSF Project Kit Fox Conservation Team confirmed that it would be possible to create a porous TSF Project design to achieve these goals. The TSF Project description in this document includes detailed information on fence design, kit fox passages, kit fox dens, predator exclusion, and movement corridors. These are considered Applicant Proposed Measures (APMs) in the TSF Project’s EIS being prepared during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and in the FEIR being prepared in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.
SJKF Protection Plan
Since SJKF are known to occupy the Project Site, construction of the TSF Project potentially could result in take of kit fox. A thorough SJKF Protection Plan is provided within this document that outlines a phased pre-construction survey approach to identify areas of kit fox activity in proposed construction blocks to facilitate construction planning. Also included in the SJKF Protection Plan are details regarding setbacks from occupied dens, on-site biological monitoring, and an array of daily construction requirements to minimize the potential for take of SJKF.
San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan 2 Topaz Solar Farm
Althouse and Meade, Inc.
On-Site Habitat Enhancements
The passive nature of the TSF Project provides opportunity for SJKF to inhabit the solar array areas. To increase the potential for SJKF habitation of the TSF Project site, the TSF Project Kit Fox Conservation Team developed a suite of on-site habitat enhancement features designed to provide SJKF with a safe haven with natural vegetation, sufficient prey base, and a variety of permanent and artificial denning structures.
Off-Site Conservation
The TSF Project has an estimated operational period of 25 years or more. At the end of the operational period, it is possible that the Project would be repowered for an additional operational term. After the productive life of the TSF Project, the solar facility and associated infrastructure would be removed. During the operational period, the Applicant intends to facilitate habitation of SJKF within the Project’s fenced area, thereby reducing the potential negative effect of the TSF Project on SJKF. Nevertheless, the TSF Project could result in loss or degradation of SJKF habitat during the operational period. Conservation for potential loss or degradation of SJKF habitat would be achieved by off- site conservation easements or land purchases to protect in perpetuity suitable SJKF habitat in the Carrizo Plain core population region. Offsite conservation lands would be acquired in sufficient quantity and quality to fully compensate for habitat impacts resulting from the TSF Project installation.
Monitoring Plan
Monitoring of SJKF within the TSF Project would be conducted as part of the Project conditions of approval included with a Conditional Use Permit to be issued by the County of San Luis Obispo. Monitoring would be sufficient to track use of the solar array areas by kit fox and provide current information to TSF Project management so that kit fox dens could be avoided and animals protected.

Grazing Will Remain a Controversy on Carrizo Monument Under the New Plan

SLO Tribune: Finally, A Plan for the Carrizo
The plains monument has its first management guidelines, which will direct it for 20 years
By David Sneed | dsneed@thetribunenews.com

Nearly a decade after it was created, the Carrizo Plain National Monument has its first resource management plan.
The plan uses grazing as a management tool for helping rare plants and animals and provides additional protections for those parts of the monument that have wilderness qualities. The plan will determine how the monument is managed for the next 20 years.
Jim Abbott, the Bureau of Land Management’s state director, formally approved the plan Saturday at a celebration at the monument, which attracted more than 400 people. Many were drawn by one of the most spectacular wildflower displays seen at the monument in years.

Tucked into San Luis Obispo County’s southeast corner, the monument covers about 250,000 acres, 206,000 of which are managed by the BLM. Other organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy and the state Department of Fish and Game, own holdings within the monument and helped write the management plan.
“The plan is really a major achievement for the various parties,” said Scott Butterfield, Carrizo program manager for the Nature Conservancy. “It’s amazing that everyone has come together to recognize the importance of the place.”
The plan is generally being greeted with support. However, the issue of grazing continues to attract some controversy.
Historically, the monument was heavily grazed. Now, cattle along with prescribed fires and other tools are used to create a habitat that is beneficial to the many rare and endangered plants and animals that live there.
The starkly beautiful Carrizo Plain is often described as California’s Serengeti, because it contains the last remnants of the grasslands that once covered the Central Valley. It also contains Painted Rock, a significant Native American rock art site, and highly visible sections of the San Andreas Fault.
Many environmental groups have praised the management plan. These include the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club. They particularly like that the plan gives added protection to 60,000 acres where roads and motorized vehicle use is minimized.
Other groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity say the management plan is a good start, but they don’t want any grazing to be allowed. They contend that scientific evidence shows grazing is harmful to endangered species.
The monument was created in 2001 in the final days of the presidency of Bill Clinton. It has been managed using cooperative plans drawn up in the late 1900s.
The BLM began drafting a new resource management plan in 2003. That effort foundered because of controversies over grazing and oil drilling as well as the death of monument manager Marlene Braun in 2005. Efforts to write a management plan were restarted in 2007.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.

As this article points out, grazing will remain a controversy. There are no scientific studies that show that grazing is beneficial to the Plain. It was over this issue that Marlene Braun found herself locked in a struggle with her supervisor, Ron Huntsinger, and the top BLM California bureaucrats, Jim Abbott (now director of BLM California) and Mike Pool (appointed by the Obama administration as Deputy Director of Operations in DC).

****UPDATE****
Carrizo Plain Management Plan Unveiled
Thursday, April 22, 2010
by MATT KETTMANN

The long-awaited, first-ever management plan for the Carrizo Plain National Monument — a 200,000-plus-acre, grassland-covered landscape in southeastern San Luis Obispo County known as “California’s Serengeti” — was released earlier this month and prescribes wilderness protection for some areas while using livestock grazing on other spots to aid native plant and animals. While the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations applauded the plan, the Center for Biological Diversity decried the grazing, arguing that such practices harm species such as the rare kit fox and giant kangaroo rat. Those who’d like to visit the Carrizo while helping to improve the habitat for pronghorn antelope and tule elk should sign up for Los Padres ForestWatch’s fence removal weekend, May 1 and 2, by emailing info@lpfw.org.

Comments

The Sierra Club together with the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch and Western Watersheds Project all lodged protests about the proposed RMP see http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/mediali…
Cal and Letty French, (tel 239-7338 Prefer e-mail
lettyfrench@ gmail.com) from the Sierra club are also leading the next weekend on the CPNM.

John_Weatherman
April 22, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

Carrizo Is Place of Togetherness: Chumash

Taft Midway Driller

Carrizo Plain: ‘This land has always brought people together’

By Doug Keeler
Taft Midway Driller
Posted Apr 15, 2010 @ 10:40 AM
Last update Apr 15, 2010 @ 12:39 PM
Taft, Calif. —

Carrizo Plain, the people who treasure it now, and the people who have treasured it for centuries met Saturday in a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the National Landscape Conservation System.

Its something that has been going on for a long, long time, as long as anyone can remember

“This land has always brought people together,” said Pilulaw Khus, an elder of the Bear Clan of the Coastal Chumash Nation.

The Carrizo’s natural beauty and human history provided the backdrop for the observance on a cool breezy day.

From Painted Rock, a sacred site to the Native Americans and a nesting area for rare raptors, to El Saucito Ranch, the first European settlement on the plain, and wildflower tours later in the day, it was a celebration of the land and its importance to those who know it.

Tributes were handed out to the public and private partners involved in the Carrizo, including the Bureau of Land Management, who manages the monument and works in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game, the Friends of Carrizo and others.

Among those honored was Ray Hatch of Taft.

Monument Manager Johna Hurl cited Hatch, which was unable to attend the events, for his work not only on the Friends of Carrizo Board and Carrizo Advisory County, but for helping promote the area through the Taft Chamber of Commerce.

“Taft was our first gateway city and Ray Hatch was instrumental in that,” Hurl said.

David Dennis, president of the Friends of Carrizo, was also singled out.

Dennis, a teacher at Taft Union High School, is also a Carrizo Plain resident.

Saturday’s celebration also marked the completion of the Carrizo Plain Management Plan. BLM officials in attendance included Hurl, Tim Smith, head of the Bakersfield BLM office; California Acting State Director Jim Abbot and Central California District Manager Kathy Hardy

Khus spoke of the relationship between the Chumash and the Carrizo through the centuries.

“This land, the Carrizo, is very important,” she told the gathering at El Saucito Ranch. “It has been since the beginning of time.”

For centuries, until European settlers settled it in the 19th century, it was a place where the Chumash and Native Americans of many nations gathered in the Carrizo, Khus said.

They came for sacred rites at sites like Painted Rock and for councils.

To this day, the Native Americans have an obligation, a sacred responsibility to the land and to the spirits.

“We have to take care of it,” Khus said. “No matter who else is here, we have to take care of it.”

But as the Europeans turned it into farmland, growing wheat, and grazing sheep and cattle, that task became difficult, she said.

Years of mistrust between the Native Americans and the settlers followed.

But the people of the BLM, Friends of Carrizo and others have helped build a new relationship, Khus told more than 100 people, many of the BLM employees and their families.

“People really care about this place,” Khus said. “They go way beyond their job to keep track of this place. We gave them a lot of trust and they returned the trust.”

Khus spoke from the porch of the El Saucito Ranch as the crowd sat under large cottonwood trees.

The program was held after a barbecue lunch that followed tours of Painted Rock

Just before the program started, a large white barn owl flew of the lawn.

Khus also paid tribute to former Carrizo Monument Manager Marlene Braun, who died in 2005.

“She loved this land more than her life,” Khus said. “She didn’t want to leave this land. I know there are still times when Marlene and her dogs still run this land because she loved it so much.”

The Carrizo Plain is a part of that system which was created a decade ago to provide an overarching guidance plan for the Bureau of Land Management’s 27 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert.

Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Plan Stiffs Conservation in Favor of Cattle

The actions of the Obama Administration on environmental matters is disappointing to say the least. Now, the Carrizo Plain National Monument has a plan, and The Wilderness Society published an article lauding the newly adopted plan and the protections it will give endangered species of flora and fauna. The Center for Biological Diversity gives the plan a more negative and mixed review.

Below is the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release.

For Immediate Release, April 9, 2010

Contact: Michael Connor, Western Watersheds Project, (818) 345-0425 (w); (818) 312-4496 (mobile); mjconnor@westernwatersheds.org
Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943 (w); (323) 490-0223 (mobile); ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org
Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Plan Comes Up Short for Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO— The Interior Department has put in place a 20-year plan for California’s Serengeti – the Carrizo Plain National Monument – that sacrifices rare wildlife habitat and native-plant preservation to entrenched livestock-grazing interests. Located in the western foothills of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the monument was created in 2001 to protect the visual splendor, cultural resources, rare plants, and wildlife of the valley’s largest remaining native habitat. The Carrizo Plain, an arid plain formed by the San Andreas fault, includes 206,635 acres of Bureau of Land Management-administered lands as well as lands administered by the state, private entities, and conservation groups.

“The Carrizo Management Plan is a step forward,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, “but it still fails to recognize the science, which clearly shows that grazing hurts rare species.”

While the management plan is an improvement over the Bureau’s long history of neglect of the Carrizo, it inexplicably allows livestock grazing to continue despite scientific studies that confirm grazing activities degrade habitat and undermine the long-term conservation of wildlife. The national monument is home to many endangered and rare species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, giant kangaroo rat, California condor, pronghorn antelope, tule elk, vernal pool species, and a suite of rare native plants.

“The BLM is trying to argue in this plan that livestock grazing should continue as a management tool, but all the science shows the opposite,” said Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project. “The science shows that cattle presence on the plain increases nonnative weeds, is detrimental to rare plants, and impacts federally protected species, so this simply is not a viable approach.”

“In the face of a changing climate, preserving the Carrizo Plain ecosystem with its suite of rare and imperiled species is imperative if we are to recover these species in the wild,” said Anderson. “The Bureau of Land Management’s previous management was based on 19th-century practices; the new plan moves the Bureau’s practices into the 20th century, but they still need to get to the 21st.”

Here are some of the public comments. The BLM’s RMP process can be found here.

If you have thoughts about the plan, please share them in the comments section.

Carrizo Plain as National Monument May Not Last Forever

Bring Down Barbed Wire

Volunteer Carrizo Plain Excursion to Remove Disruptive, Destructive Fences
Friday, February 19, 2010
By Jordan Miller

Camping, hiking, and eating a potluck dinner are some of the activities that local volunteers will participate in this weekend at the Carrizo Plain National Monument as they work to remove barbed wire fences that have inhibited pronghorn antelope from enjoying their natural habitat.

Rebekah Rafferty of Los Padres Forest Watch describes the pronghorn as “the fastest land mammal native to North America” and is worried that “abandoned barbed wire fences currently fragment the pronghorn’s movement … [They] cannot jump high enough to clear them.” To help the antelope roam freely once more, Los Padres Forest Watch is organizing a weekend excursion to Carrizo that will highlight the beauty of the plain while respecting its natural inhabitants by removing the dangerous clutter that prevents the antelope from exercising their freedom.

While the Carrizo Plain has been deemed a national monument, it may not last forever. Recent stimulus bills have inspired multiple companies to begin major planning and seemingly inevitable construction in the plains. This will reportedly not only displace the wildlife population but also destroy countless acres of serene nature. In other words, this may be the best time to catch a glimpse of the fleeting beauty that has been heralded as a natural treasure. [Emphasis added]

The weekend trip begins on Saturday, February 20 at 8:30 a.m. at the Goodwin Visitors’ Center. Food, water, gloves, and camping gear are essential for the trip. If you wish to join, contact Rebekah Rafferty at Rebekah@LPFW.org with the subject as “Pronghorn Fence Removal” and include a name, address, phone number, and number of people attending.

Volunteers Remove Fences on Carrizo for Pronghorn

Thanks to the volunteers who remove fencing so the Carrizo Plain National Monument can be a place for antelope to thrive! The volunteers do so much good work!
From The Cattle Network:

The fences crossing the desolate Carrizo Plain are remnants of the hardscrabble homesteaders who arrived a century ago, then abandoned the arid, alkaline land to the elements.

Now the barbed-wire legacy of ranching and farming on this inhospitable landscape in California is being blamed for threatening the recovery of antelope that were reintroduced in 1990 after being slaughtered to near extinction.

The long stretches of fence spread across the range prevent the Pronghorn from fleeing predators and seeking forage, and are a big reason why the herd has the worst survival rate in the West. Pronghorn are North American’s fastest runners, but cannot jump the fences.

So volunteers have taken on a cowboy’s most odious ranch task, hoping to improve the odds of the herd by taking down fences. Suffering bloody scrapes and punctures, they dismantle rusty barriers and modify others to give the antelope of the Carrizo P lain National Monument a fighting chance against coyotes that vastly outnumber them.

“You get a sense of satisfaction opening things up and making them free and wild again,” says Alice Koch, a state wildlife biologist who started the fence project on her own on her days off but now has a cadre of volunteers who proudly show off their battle wounds. “We’re opening their world up into a better and more survivable one.”

The Pronghorn are part of a debate over the future of the Carrizo Plain, designated a national monument by the federal government nine years ago. A draft management plan for the park indicated some cattle grazing would be allowed to control invasive species, but the EPA and others have countered that cattle can adversely affect native species as well. Those comments are under final review.

“Grazing is somewhat contentious,” said volunteer Craig Deutsche, who organizes four work trips a year. “Is it helpful or harmful? Do ranchers have rights by priority? Do cows have rights here since they are not native? It’s something to think about as we do the work.”

The fence volunteers’ work is painstakingly slow. It must be done by hand, and all wire carried out on foot to protect the fragile underground burrows of endangered species such as kit fox, antelope squirrels and kangaroo rats.

But there is an incredible amount of work to do: Volunteers put in more hours than the Bureau of Land Management could afford to hire out.

“If we had to contract this out, it would probably get done only in critical areas,” said Ryan Cooper of the BLM. “Their goal is every fence on the monument.”

The grassy plain 80 miles west of Bakersfield is isolated by the Temblor Mountains – an upthrust of the San Andreas Fault – and the Coast Range. Officials say it is the only place in the world where Pronghorn and Tule elk, also once plentiful in California’s Central Valley, have been reintroduced together to replicate an extinct landscape.

The elk have adapted so well that sometimes they are subject to limited hunting.

The Pronghorn? In the state’s other two regions where they have been reintroduced in habitats not crossed with cattle fences, 25 percent survive to the age at which they can outrun coyotes. In the Carrizo, it is less than 10 percent, a number that inspires the fence removers to give up their weekends and holidays.

Some abandoned fence inside the monument is removed entirely, but along miles of others that still hold cattle, volunteers stoop to replace the bottom wire with a smooth strand high enough for the 90 or so goat-sized Pronghorn to squeeze under.

“It’s a meditation for me,” said Suzanne Swedo of Los Angeles, who spent a long New Year’s holiday with 14 other volunteers an hour and a half’s drive from the nearest grocery store. “When I’m out here working, if I have anything on my mind, it just goes away.”

Their headquarters is the old prairie hous e owned by the Nature Conservancy where the Carrizo’s first manager lived when President Clinton created the monument in a flurry of public land designations three days before he left office.

Once it was common on the Carrizo to see the tan-colored antelope nervously pacing a fence they could not figure out how to bypass. As of the new year, 150 of 200 targeted miles of fence on 250,000 acres have been modified or removed by the volunteers.

Against the backdrop of this beautiful desolation, their success is not always measurable by the wire-mile.

“If you’ve ever seen them go under a fence you’ve just removed, it’s a beautiful thing,” said Janice Hamilton, a family therapist from Santa Barbara. “I’ll do anything to preserve some of this for my grandchildren.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Salazar says Reform Due for Oil and Gas Leases on Public Lands

Taft: Interior Secretary Salazar Launches Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms
Reforms Will Make Oil Drilling Tougher on Public Lands, Carrizo Plain
January 8, 2010

Citing a need to improve certainty and order in oil and gas leasing on U.S. public lands, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced several reforms that the Bureau of Land Management will undertake to improve protections for land, water, and wildlife and reduce potential conflicts that can lead to costly and time-consuming protests and litigation of leases. Interior will also establish a new Energy Reform Team to identify and implement important energy management reforms.
“The previous Administration’s anywhere, anyhow policy on oil and gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape, and fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and industry,” said Secretary Salazar. “We need a fresh look – from inside the federal government and from outside – at how we can better manage Americans” energy resources.
Les Clark of the Independent Oil Producers Association told the Independent that the IOPA opposes these new guidelines and said that the government is just making it more difficult for oil producers to lease and explore for oil on public lands.
According to Salazar, the new guidance BLM is issuing for field managers will help bring clarity, consistency, and public engagement to the onshore oil and gas leasing process while balancing the many resource values that the Bureau of Land Management is entrusted with protecting on behalf of the American people. “In addition, with the help of our new Energy Reform Team, we will improve the Department’s internal operations to better manage publicly owned energy resources and the revenues they produce.”
Many of the reforms that the Bureau of Land Management will undertake follow the recommendations of an interdisciplinary review team that studied a controversial 2008 oil and gas lease sale in Utah.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy issued a statement about the new policy and said, “The Department of Interior’s decision takes a step backward in ensuring that our families have reliable access to affordable American energy. Our local communities are blessed with abundant resources that can be responsibly developed, creating good, well-paying jobs and promoting domestic energy production. Rather than promoting this, Interior’s additional layer of bureaucracy could instead lead to higher energy prices at a time when hardworking Americans are already shouldering high costs.”
Under the reformed oil and gas leasing policy, BLM will provide:
Comprehensive interdisciplinary reviews that take into account site-specific considerations for individual lease sales. Resource Management Plans will continue to provide programmatic-level guidance, but individual parcels nominated for leasing will undergo increased internal and external coordination, public participation, interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan conformance as well as site visits to parcels when necessary; Greater public involvement in developing Master Leasing and Development Plans for areas where intensive new oil and gas extraction is anticipated so that other important natural resource values can be fully considered prior to making an irreversible commitment to develop an area; Leadership in identifying areas where new oil and gas leasing will occur. The bureau will continue to accept industry expressions of interest regarding where to offer leases, but will emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and will plan carefully for leasing and development in new areas.
BLM Director Bob Abbey said the increased opportunity for public participation and a more thorough environmental review process and documentation can help reduce the number of protests filed as well as enhance BLM?s ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales. A comparison of the new guidance with current policy can be found here.
“The new approach can help restore certainty and predictability to a system currently burdened by constant legal challenges and protests,” said Abbey. “It will also support the BLM’s multiple-use mission, which requires management of the public lands to provide opportunities for activities such as recreation, conservation, and energy development?both conventional and renewable.”
BLM will also issue guidance regarding the use of categorical exclusions, or CXs, established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and that allow the bureau to approve some oil and gas development activities based on existing environmental or planning analysis. Under the new policy, in accordance with White House Council on Environmental Quality guidelines, BLM will not use these CX’s in cases involving “extraordinary circumstances” such as impacts to protected species, historic or cultural resources, or human health and safety.
Salazar also issued a Secretarial Order establishing an Energy Reform Team within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management that will identify and oversee implementation of energy reforms.
“The creation of the new Team focuses on our important stewardship responsibility in the management of the nation’s energy resources,” said Wilma Lewis, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “Through its work, the team will promote efficiency and effectiveness in the development of renewable and conventional energy resources, so that we can be properly accountable to the American public.”
Under the Assistant Secretary’s direction, the Energy Reform Team will provide greater coordination and improved accountability to ensure the orderly, efficient, responsible and timely development of public resources critical for our national energy security. Through its own efforts, as well as by considering good ideas from stakeholders, industry, and the public, the Team will help ensure that Interior is a responsible steward of the public resources it manages and obtains fair value for energy resources owned by the public.
The new oil and gas leasing guidance and CX guidance will be implemented once BLM has completed final internal reviews.
According to Forest Watch, the Carrizo Plain National Monument, in San Luis Obispo County, has also experienced increased pressure from the oil industry. In 2006, an oil tycoon announced his intent to drill an exploratory well inside the Carrizo Plain National Monument boundary. His lease eventually expired before he was able to do so. In 2008, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum announced its intent to explore for oil on the valley floor of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. That proposal is still pending.

http://www.taftindependent.com/News/ViewArticle/1666

Secretary Salazar is drawing heat from the oil industry. His stance has angered and surprised the industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

Business groups fear the administration’s action will discourage domestic energy development, by adding new red tape to the permitting process for oil and gas drilling. In a letter to Mr. Salazar last week, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a lobbying group that represents manufacturers, credited the 2005 law with reducing drilling-permit backlogs and boosting natural-gas production.

The Bureau of Land Management will have to reign themselves in. From the WSJ article quoted above:

Mr. Salazar’s action follows litigation from some environmental groups and criticism from the Government Accountability Office that the BLM has often misinterpreted and violated a 2005 federal law. The legislation was designed to speed oil and gas drilling in the West by allowing federal land managers to waive extensive environmental reviews normally required.

Republicans sent a letter of complaint about the reforms.

Environmental groups who have been fighting for curbing of the leases are generally pleased. The Billings Gazette quotes Salazar as saying that the Bush Administration treated public lands like a “candy store.” Previously Salazar had halted land sales that were to take place in Utah, so this latest reform is additional good news for places like the Carrizo Plain National Monument.