BLM bands mining claims from new solar zones

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has established 17 solar energy zones (SEZs) in six western states totaling 303,900 acres.  The areas are withdrawn from entry of new mining claims.  The lands have been and will remain open to mineral and geothermal leasing, and mineral material sales.  The Feds will seek solar energy developers to establish solar arrays on the land.

The map below shows the general location of these new solar zones.  If you go to this link, you can click on each area for a closer look including pictures if you click the map icons.

This law, called Public Land Order No. 7818, withdraws 5,950 acres in Arizona, 165,179 acres in California,16,904 acres in Colorado, 65,946 acres in Nevada, 30,706 acres in New Mexico, 19,215 acres in Utah according to the Federal Register.


These selected areas are the result of the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development.  The intention, according to a BLM press release: “The Solar PEIS will serve as a roadmap for solar energy development by establishing solar energy zones with access to existing or planned transmission, the fewest resource conflicts and incentives for development within those zones. The blueprint’s comprehensive analysis will make for faster, better permitting of large-scale solar projects on public lands.”

The BLM has done mineral assessments for the solar sites.  For most of the sites, the BLM claims “There are no documented occurrences of locatable mineral deposits” within the sites, although some of the sites have moderate to high potential close to their borders.  The BLM notes that the Riverside East site in California has “high development potential” for gypsum and gold within the solar site.

It would seem that for most solar sites, banning new mining claims is a moot point.  Perhaps the BLM seeks to minimize complications from speculators.

Do we need the US Forest Service?

We have two major federal agencies that manage federal land, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) under the Agriculture Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Interior Department.  Why do we need both agencies?  As far as I can tell the BLM does everything USFS does and more.  It seems that one of these agencies is redundant.

The USFS manages 193 million acres of federal land using over 30,000 employees and a budget (FY 2011) of $5.38 billion.  That works out to $27.87 per acre managed, $179,333 per employee, and  6,433 acres per employee.

The BLM manages 245 million surface acres, as well as 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, with about 10,000 employees, and a budget (FY 2011) of $1.1 billion.  That works out to $4,49 per acre or counting mineral estate, $1.16 per acre managed, $110,000 per employee, and 24,500 acres per employee or counting mineral estate 94,500 acres per employee.

Maybe looking at just these numbers is not a fair comparison, but it is suggestive that we are getting more for our tax dollars with the BLM.

Both agencies manage theoretically for multiple use, including mining, logging, grazing and recreation. Both agencies manage forests and sell timber.  USFS timber production has dramatically decreased since a peak in the 1980s due in part to the environmental quagmire of law suits and regulations. (See table and graph here.)  I can’t find similar figures for the BLM.

The BLM manages the subsurface mineral rights under National Forests.  Mining claims located on a National Forest must be registered with the BLM not the USFS.  Exploration and mining are subject to 36 CFR 228(A) for USFS land or to 43 CFR 3809 for BLM land.  Why two separate sets of regulations for the same activity?

The Department of the Interior includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.  It would seem to be the logical agency to manage the National Forests.

I propose that the USFS be eliminated and its duties merged into the BLM in the Interior Department.  That may result in more efficient management of our National Forests and elimination of a redundant bureaucracy.

Reorganization is justifiable solely on grounds of efficiency and economics, but there are other considerations.  While the BLM has its faults (due mainly to the current Secretary of the Interior), it is generally easier to work with and approaches things on a more pragmatic and scientific basis.  USFS seems to be guided by eco-extremist doctrine and anti-public attitude.

Even better would be for the feds to turn all national forests over to the states and let them manage the forests according to the local needs and philosophy.



BLM Wild Lands Designation Attempts To Bypass Congress

At a time when America is seeking to reduce its dependence on foreign sources of petroleum and minerals, the Obama administration is throwing up impediments to developing domestic resources. In late December, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued “Secretarial Order 3310” which establishes the new designation of “Wild Lands” separate from Wilderness Areas (which must be designated by Congress) and Wilderness Study Areas, a precursor to Wilderness designation.

The Order will require local Bureau of Land Management field offices to inventory all land under their jurisdiction for “wilderness characteristics.” “Field Offices will determine when it is appropriate to conduct a wilderness inventory… BLM must conduct an inventory before authorizing a proposed project that may impair those apparent wilderness characteristics.”

This means that there will be bureaucratic delays when projects such as mineral or petroleum exploration, grazing, or logging are proposed on BLM land. There appears to be no time limit imposed on the field offices to conduct the inventories. The designation will also affect rights-of-way across BLM land.

The definition of “wilderness characteristics” is rather fuzzy.

First, the area must contain at least 5,000 acres of contiguous roadless BLM land, except that it may be smaller if it is adjacent to other federal lands “which have been formally determined to have wilderness or potential wilderness values or … such lands include designated Wilderness, BLM Wilderness Study Areas, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service areas Proposed for Wilderness Designation, U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Study Areas or areas of Recommended Wilderness, and National Park Service areas Recommended or Proposed for Designation.”

Secondly, the land must contain “naturalness,” meaning “It must appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, and any work of human beings must be substantially unnoticeable.” That is except for a whole bunch of exceptions.

Significant “human impacts” can occur just outside the area to be designated.

“Wild lands” must contain either “opportunities for solitude…” which seems inconsistent with the sentence above, or “a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.” The field offices are instructed: “Do not disqualify an area based on a finding that outstanding opportunities exist in only a portion of the area.”

(For more detail, see BLM Inventory instructions to filed offices).

From a related BLM document we have these additional instructions:

“Wild Lands must contain management actions to achieve protection and could consider land use plan decisions including, but not limited to, those that:

1. Recommend withdrawal from mineral entry.

2. Close to leasing or allow leasing only with No Surface Occupancy/No Exceptions.

3. Designate rights-of-way exclusion areas.

4. Close to construction of new temporary or permanent roads.

5. Close OHV (off highway vehicle) use or limit OHV use to designated routes.

6. Close to mineral material sales.

7. Exclude certain commercial permits (e.g., commercial or personal-use wood-cutting permits).

8. Designate as Visual Resource Management Class I or II.

9. Close to new structures unrelated to preserving the wilderness characteristics.

10. Retain public lands in Federal ownership.”

This new “Wild Lands” designation will inhibit our ability to explore for and produce vital natural resources at a time when we are becoming more dependent of foreign sources. One of the first targets is the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) which is near the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. NPR-A was established in 1923 and administered by the Defense Department until 1976 when it was transferred to Interior. NPR-A was estimated to contain 900 million barrels of crude oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2010.

These regulations are very similar to the process for designating Wilderness Areas. But Wilderness Area designation requires an act of Congress. It seems that “Wild Lands” are nothing less than the administration’s attempt to bypass Congress and rule by executive decree, the same policy the administration is following by allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Wyoming Governor Matthew Mead, in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “A Wild Lands designation will further drag out (if not permanently halt) the permitting process while local economies suffer. The BLM currently does not have the appropriate resources or track record for approval of plans and projects; and this will only make the problem greater and delays longer.”

Putting more land off limits locks up our domestic energy and mineral supplies, kills jobs, and eliminates potential government royalties and taxes that could help decrease the deficit.

P.S. I took the photo in Southern Arizona.  Does anybody recognize where it is?