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April 17, 2024

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April 11, 2024

BLM’s Western Solar Plan Puts Western Big Game Herds at Risk 

Solar goals can be achieved & wildlife habitat conserved through modified BLM proposal 

Some of the most iconic western hunts occur on Bureau of Land Management acres. Think about Wyoming pronghorn, Arizona mule deer, Nevada bighorn sheep. If you’ve ever experienced or dreamed of these hunts, you’ll be interested in the possible placement of millions of acres of solar panels. 



In January, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan that—when completed—will guide utility-scale solar development on federal public lands. The BLM administers 245 million acres, primarily in 11 western states and Alaska. The draft is an anticipated update of BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan that, when finalized, will identify areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming that will be made available for utility-scale solar across the region. The updated plan is viewed by the Administration as a key step toward deploying 25 GW of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and achieving a 100 percent clean electricity grid by 2035.  

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership recognizes the need for renewable energy sources, and we believe that development must be thoughtfully planned so that it does not adversely impact crucial fish and wildlife habitats and valued hunting and fishing areas. Utility-scale solar generating facilities are high-fenced to exclude both people and wildlife, creating a solid barrier to big game movements. For this reason, improperly sited facilities pose a disproportionate risk to migratory big game species and could be catastrophic for big game herds if located in the wrong place. Since the earliest stages of the Western Solar Plan revision, TRCP and other hunting and fishing organizations have requested that the BLM exclude big game migration corridors and winter range from areas available for utility-scale development.  



Americans can have both renewable energy and robust wildlife populations, but deliberate steps must be taken now to ensure that future. The preferred alternative in the draft plan (Alternative 3) identifies 22 million acres of your public lands to be made available for solar energy development, including 1.8 million acres of migration corridors and 4 million acres of winter range for some of the West’s most well-known big game herds and hunting destinations. Storied mule deer herds like the Paunsaugunt in Utah, the Kaibab in Arizona, and the Wyoming Range could suffer if this proposal is not modified. 

Mule Deer: James Wicks

Encouragingly, the BLM’s draft plan specifies that only 700,000 acres are necessary to fulfill the agency’s solar deployment objectives. Even if the agency is wrong and solar deployment requires several times the anticipated land, the BLM could still fully meet their targets and exclude all big game crucial winter range and migration corridors from development.

To learn more, read the below state-by-state breakdowns and follow the links to maps that show some of the greatest development threats to big game habitat from utility-scale solar development.  

Comment now and request that BLM fix the final Western Solar Plan by excluding crucial big game habitats from potential development.    

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State-by-State Breakdown

Arizona

The proposed plan would allow for solar development across 2.3 million acres of BLM-managed ground in Arizona. 

However, even the preferred alternative of the plan allows for significant development in mapped mule deer migration and winter range habitat utilized by the Kaibab North mule deer herd, as well as the Paunsaugunt herd that travels south out of Utah to winter in northern Arizona. The Kaibab deer herd offers some of the most sought-after mule deer buck hunting in the world in units 12A and 12B. In 2019, the Kaibab herd had an estimated population of 10,200. The loss of winter range and migration habitats to utility-scale solar development would have extensive impacts on the herd. 


Nevada

The proposed plan would allow for solar development across nearly 7 million acres of BLM-managed ground in Nevada.  

Alternative 3 includes development in several mapped deer migration routes in northeast Nevada, and would also impact mule deer winter range in Management Areas 6, 7, 22, and 24, pronghorn winter ranges in Management Areas 5 and 6, and several important ranges for desert bighorn sheep in Management Areas 21, 26, and 27. 

Importantly, the majority of the development areas are located in winter range and migration corridors—a limiting habitat for these big game populations—the loss of which will have disproportionate adverse impacts. 

The following links provide detailed maps of potentially impacted areas in Winnemucca, Mina-Tonopah, and North Caliente


Oregon

In Oregon, under BLM’s stated preferred alternative, the Solar PEIS has proposed 714,957 acres of BLM-administered lands as open for solar development. While much of those lands do not conflict with priority wildlife habitat, Alternative 3 allows for development that lies within important ungulate winter range and significantly impinges upon the migration pathways of several mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep herd ranges. 

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2024 Draft Mule Deer Plan identified seven Herd Ranges of High Concern. Oregon’s Crescent, Bulelah-Malhuer, Klamath Basin, and southeast mule deer herds face significant impingements to their migrations and further fragmentation could create significant additional downward pressure on populations in several of Eastern Oregon’s most iconic game management units. 


Idaho

The proposed plan would allow for solar development across a total of 1.47 million acres of BLM-managed ground in Idaho.  

While most of the proposed acres do not conflict with priority big game habitat, Alternative 3 allows for extensive development in four mapped pronghorn and deer migration routes in southcentral and southwest Idaho, including over 9,000 acres in the Pioneer Mountain mule deer migration, which offers some of Idaho’s highest quality buck hunts in units 44 and 45. The potential solar development would also impact the Mountain Home (51,533 acres), Owinza (123,595 acres), and Gooding (27,886 acres) pronghorn migrations.  


New Mexico

According to the proposed plan, nearly 3 million acres of BLM-managed ground in New Mexico would be open to solar development, including significant development in mapped mule deer migration and winter range habitat utilized by the Crow Mesa herd in Game Management Units 2C, 5A, and 6A, as well as winter range habitat for the Pueblo of Santa Ana mule deer herd in Game Management Unit 9.  

Mule deer are an especially important species for the hunting community in New Mexico, as they account for more than 95% of the annual deer harvest across the state. 


Colorado

The proposed plan under Alternative 3 would make 548,225 acres of BLM-managed surface lands open for solar development in Colorado. 

A significant proportion of these acres overlap high-value habitat for important elk, deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep herds in western Colorado. The overlap includes elk migration, severe winter range, and winter concentration areas for the Cold Springs elk herd in Colorado’s northwest corner GMUs 2, 10, and 201; as well as mule deer migration, severe winter range, and winter concentration areas for the White River Mule Deer Herd in the Piceance Basin in GMUs 11 and 22. The BLM’s proposal would also make high-value big game habitat available for future solar development in the Uncompahgre area, South Park, and the San Luis Valley.  

Follow the links to view maps of potential overlap in the Dinosaur, Uncompahgre, and Piceance areas as examples of areas at-risk.  


Wyoming

Wyomingites previously saw crucial winter range and migration routes for pronghorn antelope in southwest Wyoming cutoff when the Sweetwater Solar project was completed in late 2018. To avoid similar mistakes in the future, it will be important for the BLM to exclude development in big game winter range, migration corridors officially designated by the state, and additional mapped migration routes. 

The BLM’s proposed plan for solar development in Wyoming includes nearly 3 million acres. Within this proposed area lies an overlap between iconic deer herds like the Sublette mule deer herd as well as the Wyoming Range mule deer herd (region G & H) famous for the Red Desert to Hoback migration route. In addition, proposed solar developments could also interrupt the famous “Path of the Pronghorn” migration route completed by the Sublette pronghorn herd. This migration route is currently in the process of being formally designated by the state due to its significance.  

The BLM’s proposed alternative also would disproportionately impact the Medicine Bow pronghorn herd and the Baggs mule deer herd—a migration route along the Colorado and Wyoming border. 


Pronghorn: James Wicks

All people who care about hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat on public lands, can request these specific modifications to the Bureau of Land Management’s Western Solar Plan below.

Feature Photo Credit: Josh Metten

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House Passes Bipartisan EXPLORE Act to Improve Access to Outdoor Recreation

House passage is a major step towards improving public land access and fostering outdoor recreational opportunities nationwide.

On Tuesday, TRCP joined America’s hunters and anglers in celebrating the passage of the bipartisan EXPLORE Act in the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote.

The EXPLORE Act is a first of its kind recreation package that would improve access to the outdoors and modernize recreation infrastructure.  

Originally introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), The EXPLORE Act is a comprehensive legislative package that would expand access opportunities to a variety of public land users, streamline permitting processes for businesses focused on providing recreation opportunities, and modernize outdoor infrastructure.  

“The way Americans recreate is changing at break-neck speeds,” said Becky Humphries, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The EXPLORE Act will ensure that our agencies and the public have the tools they need to keep up with the dynamic recreation patterns of our nation. TRCP applauds the House’s passage of the EXPLORE Act and looks forward to the advancement of this important bipartisan legislation.” 

Along with including provisions of the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act, which would streamline recreational permitting for guides and outfitters, the EXPLORE Act would:  

  • Expand availability of public target shooting ranges on BLM and Forest Land.
  • Allow states, counties, and tribes to conduct recreation infrastructure enhancement or improvements on public lands through Good Neighbor Agreements. 
  • Improve federal coordination and provide assistance to non-federal partners in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. 

The EXPLORE Act now heads to the Senate where the bill will be considered alongside the Senate’s recreation package: the bipartisan America’s Outdoor Recreation Act.


The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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April 2, 2024

River Herring Rebound Requires Atlantic Herring Fisheries Management Changes

Dam removals alone cannot bring river herring back to southern New England; their loss hurts striped bass, tuna, bluefish, and many bird and wildlife species

While driving home last week from a public meeting in Buzzards Bay, Mass., to gather information about Atlantic herring management, there were two very prominent thoughts in my mind. Number one: There is an incredibly diverse set of user groups who rely on Atlantic herring and river herring in southern New England, both directly and indirectly; and number two: These are some of the most passionate people I have ever been around.

The participants of the scoping meeting, held by the New England Fishery Management Council as they flesh out Amendment 10 to the Atlantic Herring Fisheries Management Plan (FMP), were made up of commercial fisherman, tribal members and tribal staff, recreational anglers, town municipal employees, nonprofit organizations, volunteers tasked with springtime river herring counts, previous council staff, and even a musician from Martha’s Vineyard who holds river herring in such high regard he writes songs about them. The group was diverse, but the message was very clear: Everyone wants the Atlantic herring population to have a chance to rebound, and they want streams and rivers to run silver with river herring again each spring.

Photo credit: Connecticut DEEP Fisheries

What Is Amendment 10? How Does It Relate to River Herring?

The NEFMC is currently working to prioritize the development of new management measures through Amendment 10, an amendment to the existing Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan, to address ongoing stakeholder concerns and user conflict, attain optimum yield in the fishery, and improve river herring conservation. The council is exploring a number of management alternatives to minimize conflict, including seasonal and coastal area restrictions or closures and new possession limits. Like so many other attendees at last week’s meeting, I wanted to be sure they specifically consider the impacts of the fishery on river herring species – which include blueback herring and alewife – and on a similar species, American shad.

As a southern New England native, a self-labeled “river herring nut,” and the river herring biologist for the State of Connecticut, the desire for streams and rivers to run silver again in spring rang especially near and dear to my heart. Nineteen of the 26 individuals who spoke in favor of making conservation changes to the Atlantic Herring FMP also spoke to the importance of river herring to their communities, their ways of life, and to the ecosystems in their areas. They gave passionate testimony to the loss of these fish in their local spawning runs over the last two decades and provided detailed comments on the negative effects this loss has had on their lives and the environment around them.

Photo credit: Connecticut DEEP Fisheries

Stakeholders also explained why protecting these fish matters so much to them, and they provided solutions across the range of alternatives provided by the NEFMC to protect and enhance river herring populations. Some spoke to instituting time/area closures for Atlantic herring fisheries to protect river herring that were entering nearshore ocean waters when preparing to spawn, while others suggested reinstating a full-year buffer zone that would push Atlantic herring trawlers out to some distance from shore indefinitely.

There is good reason for these requests. Between 2014 and 2023, some 943 metric tons of river herring/shad bycatch were reported across the Gulf of Maine, Cape Cod, and Southern New England catch cap areas. Of this roughly 2 million pounds of bycatch, 75 percent (or over 7 million river herring, based on average fish weight) originated from the Southern New England Catch Cap area, from south of Cape Cod through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and beyond. In stark contrast, only 17 percent came from the Cape Cod catch cap area and only just 8 percent came from the Gulf of Maine catch cap area.

This offers strong evidence that an existing time area closure for Management Area 1A off northern New England – which is basically a non-fishing buffer zone for Atlantic herring midwater trawlers – protects the majority of the river herring in that region between January and June, while the river herring are staging up to spawn in those rivers. The resulting 12 million-plus river herring that migrated into Maine’s waterways this year tell the rest of the story. Management Area 2, off southern New England, currently lacks similar protections, and is therefore suffering from historically low returns.

Photo credit: Connecticut DEEP Fisheries

Why You Should Care About River Herring

Throughout the public testimony portion of last week’s meeting, many other comments were made about river herring protections, and they all ended up in the same place. These user groups all wanted the council to take actions to enhance river herring avoidance in the Atlantic herring fishery and take other river herring catch reduction measures to better support ongoing coastwide restoration efforts for river herring. The commenters all appeared to truly and deeply care about these fish, like so many of us do along the Atlantic coast, for a range of reasons. I commend the NEFMC for giving everyone from the public who cares about restoring river herring not just a voice, but also a place to be heard. Last week, like at other scoping meeting venues this spring, was an incredibly important night for Atlantic herring and southern New England’s river herring, but it was also a very special night for those of us who have built our lives around these incredible fish.

What do I mean by that, and why should you also care about river herring? These fish provide an important food source for many fish and wildlife species, including economically valuable sportfish like striped bass, tuna, and bluefish and charismatic birds like ospreys, herons, and eagles. They also fuel recreation and tourism economies and maintain functioning ecosystems, and can serve as a valuable food and bait source themselves in areas with healthy populations.

Since the year 2000, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on restoring and reconnecting river herring spawning habitats in southern New England through water quality projects, dam removals, and fish passage constructions, and yet their numbers continued to fall. In response, there has been a complete southern New England-wide ban on the recreational take of these fish for nearly two decades, and those who were told this closure would protect and bring the fish back watched as the numbers continued to fall, while populations to the north and south, with similar restrictions, continued to rise.

Photo credit: Kevin Job

Individuals at the meeting spoke about this inability of freshwater infrastructure efforts alone to address the problem and lamented that they haven’t been able to keep one river herring in 18 years in Massachusetts. This despite the fact that the council’s Atlantic herring management plan still allows the Atlantic herring industry to take and profit from river herring caught incidentally as bycatch in the fishery.

This industrial take is limited by catch caps, but these catch caps still allow around 3.6 million river herring to be legally landed each year. Of this catch cap, 79 percent is allowed from the waters around southern New England and Cape Cod: the very areas currently suffering the most from poor river herring numbers. Similarly, the waters to the southeast of Nantucket, deemed the Georges Bank Catch Cap Area, has no cap on the number of river herring taken, allowing continuous commercial Atlantic herring fishing regardless of the number of river herring landed as bycatch. Couple this with incredibly low observer coverage to track the take of river herring, and the concerns of those in attendance last week are very clear.

One big question is on all our minds: Why does the area with the most severely depleted river herring currently allow the highest river herring landings?

What You Can Do

River herring populations in southern New England need your help, and your voice can still be heard by the NEFMC. With potential management measures designed to address the catch of shad and river herring in the directed Atlantic herring fishery, including revisiting catch caps and/or time/area closures included in the NEFMC’s Amendment 10 scoping documents, this is your chance to speak in person or write to the NEFMC in support of enhancing river herring avoidance and catch reduction in the Atlantic herring fishery.

Provide a personalized email comment to the council before April 30 or attend an in-person meeting in your state. Your input is vital if we want the NEFMC to best protect our herring resource.

Kevin Job, a native New Englander, is a fisheries biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. His work focuses on diadromous fishes including river herring and shad.

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April 1, 2024

Hunters Celebrate Idaho’s Effort to Improve Highway Safety and Assure Deer, Elk Sustainability 

The Cervidae Peak Wildlife Overpass was built specifically to foster highway safety and accommodate wildlife 

To the naked eye, Idaho State Highway 21 between Mile Post 19 and Mile Post 20 is a non-descript bend on a main route between Idaho’s largest city, Boise, and the state’s copious public lands and its high-country, wild heart.  

To the Idaho Transportation Department and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, however, that stretch of highway is the epicenter of ITD’s mission to provide safe passage for travelers and IDFG’s mission to preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage Idaho’s wildlife resources for Idaho’s citizens.  

It is there, at exactly mile 19.32, that transportation officials constructed the Cervidae Peak Wildlife Overpass. The first of its kind in Idaho, the overpass is a bridge built specifically to foster highway safety and accommodate wildlife. The overpass opened in November 2023, and based on photos from its first winter, it has been a roaring success. 

Once animals become more acclimated to the structure, transportation officials believe the bridge will reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions in this area by up to 80 percent. 

This project is a win-win supported by a broad-based coalition of supporters including ITD, IDFG, the City of Boise, the Boise National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local businesses, non-government organizations, and a variety of interested citizens. The $7-million project was primarily funded by the Federal Highway Administration’s 2017 Idaho Federal Lands Access Program grant, and hunters contributed matching funds to the project through Pittman-Robertson money. 

The wildlife crossing improves motorist safety by reducing risks of wildlife-vehicle collisions. In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 158 people were killed and more than 10,000 injured in car crashes involving wildlife across the country. According to State Farm Insurance, there were more than 1.8 million animal collision insurance claims in the U.S. between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. The average cost from July 2016 to June 2017 was $4,179 per claim. Damage costs have only risen in the last seven years. 

An 80 percent reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions is a major victory on a highway that will only grow busier as Idaho’s population continues to grow. 

The wildlife crossing directly benefits the Boise River mule deer and elk herds and the hunters who chase them. Roughly 8,000 to 9,000 mule deer and 1,800 to 2,400 elk cross State Highway 21 twice annually to move between high country summer ranges and the winter range on the Boise River Wildlife Management Area and nearby public lands that surround Lucky Peak Reservoir. 

Conserving these migration corridors, which include stop-over areas and crucial winter ranges, is essential to the long-term viability of wildlife populations and the economies that survive on these resources. Accessing seasonal ranges is vital for the existence of sustainably-managed populations of big game animals.  

The Cervidae Peak Wildlife Overpass is a key piece of infrastructure ensuring that future, and a prime example of positive collaboration between federal, state, and private conservation efforts. 

Learn more about TRCP’s work in the Pacific Northwest HERE. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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