TRCP Responds to BLM Western Solar Development Proposal
Organization encourages BLM to conserve big game habitats & hunting and fishing areas as it advances solar development on public lands
Today, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan that—when completed—will guide utility-scale solar development on federal public lands across 11 western states. The draft is a proposed update of BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan, which identified areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah with high solar potential and low resource conflicts to streamline solar development. The update expands application of the Western Solar Plan to include potential solar development on public lands in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.
“We recognize that public lands in the west provide important options to help meet the nation’s renewable energy needs,” said Jon Holst, wildlife & energy senior advisor for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our public lands also contain critical unfragmented habitats for fish and wildlife populations that offer world class hunting and angling opportunities. We will be looking at the details of this draft plan to make sure that the interests of hunters and anglers are incorporated.”
The TRCP and partners have been involved in BLM’s efforts to update the Western Solar Plan since scoping began in late 2022. The updated plan is an important step toward meeting the Administration’s goals of deploying 25 GW of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and to have a 100 percent clean electricity grid by 2035. The BLM and Department of Energy estimate that approximately 700,000 acres of public lands will be needed to meet the Administration’s goals for solar deployment. The TRCP is committed to working with our membership, partners, state and local governments, and other key stakeholders to facilitate a successful outcome for the Western Solar Plan that advances the development of solar energy in a manner that also conserves our natural resources and sporting heritage.
This release kicks off a 90-day comment period where the public will have an opportunity to provide input on the alternatives and other management options presented by the BLM in the draft plan. Public input will inform a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision. The public can submit written comments through April 18, 2024. More details are available on BLM’s Solar Program website.
Find the BLM press release here.
Find TRCP’s scoping comments here.
Find TRCP’s public land solar blog here.
Reflections from an Owyhee Canyons’ Chukar Camp
TRCP’s new Oregon Field Representative, Tristan Henry, looks back on a recent chukar hunt and forward to the work that must be done to safeguard this iconic landscape
While reminiscing about a recent chukar hunt in the Owyhee Canyons and my new role as the Oregon field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, I was reminded of a quote penned by Walt Whitman almost 150 years ago:
“As to scenery, while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the Upper Yellowstone, and the like afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the prairies and plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America’s characteristic landscape.”
I’d have to agree with old Walt. I’ve been lucky to spend many days in the field chasing chukar, hunting mule deer, and throwing dry flies and streamers across the vast expanse of public lands that constitute southeast Oregon’s Owyhee country. It’s a rare treat to sip coffee with a bird dog by your side around a morning fire as you watch the first burst of sunlight rise above the Owyhee plateau. Out there, in sagebrush-covered solitude, it can be tempting to want to save the last best places for ourselves, but sharing it is something far more powerful.
A Community Camp
In late October of last year, I joined a group of hunters and photographers for a few days to camp, hunt, and capture images and stories about this remote and beautiful canyon country. A few in our group were lucky enough to experience the Owyhee for the first time: Sav Sankaran of the Orvis company and Durell Smith of the Sporting Life Notebook had loaded their truck more than 2000 miles away and drove 31 hours for their first shots at wild chukar with renowned outdoors photographer Brian Grossenbacher there to capture the moment. Conservation staff and local members of the Owyhee Sportsmen and their families rounded out our camp, and I can say with a great deal of confidence I would share a fire with all of them any day.
We camped in as stunning a desert campsite as I have ever seen. At the confluence of several streams, mallards circled, redband trout finned, and after a frigid night, we woke to cowboy coffee and the sound of chukar greeting the sun from the rimrocks. We discussed our strategy for the morning hunt with scalding bacon that hardened quickly in the morning cold. After the dogs were collared, we drove out of the canyon in the direction of those distant “chucking” partridge. Shutting the tailgate, I heeled my dog, beeped his collar, and began walking westward through sage and rimrock.
“It’s a rare treat to sip coffee with a bird dog by your side around a morning fire as you watch the first burst of sunlight rise above the Owyhee plateau.”
Sturgil, my 4-year-old wirehair, and I had shared some incredible days in the early weeks of Oregon’s upland season, and though this one started out a mess, we ended on a string of high notes. Birds were plentiful and I walked back to the truck with a heavy vest and one sequence etched proudly in my mind: A productive point, the approach, and a cloud of sixes finding a bird.
After a particularly wet spring brought much needed moisture to the thirsty high desert of the northern great basin, it was easy to see glimmers of that once-healthy rangeland. The weight in my vest was tangible proof of the productivity of the place, but thousands of acres of cheatgrass, medusahead, Russian thistle, and knapweed remind us just how much more needs to be done to protect the Owyhee.
Back at camp, we exchanged stories of the day over bourbon and under a star-filled sky. With a shared love for birds, bird dogs, and a thirst for community in wild places, we traversed our memories, each ridge and valley telling a story of survival and adaptation. As hunters, I suppose we’re used to navigating the thin margin between abundance and austerity, and we may be uniquely experienced in finding hope where others see desolation. There’s proof enough of that in the photos. These moments captured the stark magic of the Owyhee just about perfectly.
So few places in the U.S. offer such a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life that one can truly lose oneself in nature. Fewer still offer all this splendor while also supporting grazing, hunting, fishing, and a myriad of other multiple-use purposes, but the Owyhee does. As a lifelong Oregonian and hunter, I’ve come to understand that safeguarding such places is not just an environmental imperative: it’s a moral one. It is our duty to ensure that future generations can experience the same sense of connection and awe that we find while walking in on a point.
Learn more about the Owyhee Sportsmen and how you can help protect the Owyhee Country HERE.
And learn more about TRCP’s work in the Pacific Northwest HERE.
Photo credit: Brian Grossenbacher
Hunting in the Everglades? Yes, That’s a Thing
Richard Martinez shared with TRCP how South Florida hunting offers a chance for backcountry adventure in a subtropical setting – without the need for a passport
When you think of the Everglades, you probably think of water.
Of airboats and alligators, miles of submerged sawgrass and cypress domes. Of swamps filled with mosquitos and invasive pythons. If you’re a saltwater angler, your mind might also wander to the amazing tarpon, snapper, snook, and myriad marine fish that benefit from Everglades conservation efforts.
What may not come to mind is dry land – and the hunting opportunities those thousands of acres provide.
“It’s more than just bugs and swamps and reptiles down here,” says Richard Martinez, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and Gladesman. “Hunting the Everglades uplands is like nothing else in the country.”
South Florida is a well-known destination for Osceola turkey hunts. But Martinez, a diehard turkey hunter who’s been a guest on MeatEater and The Hunting Public podcast, also seeks public-land deer, wild hog, ducks, and small game. This is largely due to a network of not only wetlands and waterways but also a mosaic of upland pine islands and hardwood hammocks that game species rely on for bedding, foraging, and nesting.
“In other parts of the country, you typically have to travel hundreds or thousands of feet in elevation to experience changes in habitat types, but here the ecology can change within a few inches or feet,” says Martinez.
“I find it very humbling. It’s not a very human-friendly place.”Click here to support critical Everglades habitat protection –
A Backcountry Hunters & Anglers volunteer since 2018, Martinez currently serves on the Florida chapter’s board as chair. He helps coordinate initiatives and outreach across the state, and advocates on behalf of local sportsmen and sportswomen on habitat and access issues affecting South Florida. A strong hunting community exists in South Florida, including conservation associations and airboat and duck hunting clubs.
The Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the country. And for Martinez the biggest draw of hunting in the Everglades is exploring their sheer wildness.
“I find it very humbling,” he says. “It’s not a very human-friendly place. I often feel like everything around me is telling me to go home when I’m there.”
Foreboding as it is, Everglades hunting means not just opportunities for Osceolas, migratory waterfowl, and non-migratory mottled ducks and black-bellied whistlers that are hard to find anywhere else, but an abundance of wildlife in a place that can test even the most seasoned outdoorsperson.
Martinez recalls one close encounter with a Florida panther (he’s had several confrontations with the big cats) while turkey hunting. He was on foot, traversing a “buggy trail” – Everglades parlance for offroad vehicle trails made for the region’s raised 4WD vehicles. “I came around a trail and was within 10 yards of a full-grown male panther. He bolted, but I nearly crapped my pants,” he laughs. “You don’t realize how big they are until you see them in real life.”
Like most other hunters and anglers, Martinez supports Everglades conservation efforts, but wants to make sure that hunters’ voices – in addition to the voices of anglers and conservationists – are being heard, whether looking at panther protections or determining conservation pathways to undo decades of damage from drainage canals and levees.
“Basically, half the Everglades are gone. The same amount of water remains, even though the land capable of holding onto that water is greatly diminished,” he says.
The problem is the need to put those water inputs somewhere for the land to reabsorb and filter out pollutants before they reach the ocean. Martinez says an overlooked result of human-manipulated water levels is negative impacts on hunting and habitat. “There’s a lot of push to put more water into certain interior areas that traditionally don’t hold as much water,” he says. “Those plant communities are now changing and not supporting game species like deer and turkey as well.”
Habitats found in slightly higher uplands which require little to no long-term inundation can be affected by water storage and release decisions that provide beneficial water treatment but keep plant communities submerged for extended periods. Martinez’s hunting community, alongside the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and various conservation groups tackling the challenge of Everglades restoration, recognizes the complexities of trying to undo decades of destruction and neglect.
“We shouldn’t call it Everglades restoration. It’s really Everglades reinvention. And who gets to decide how we do this?”
Thanks to the advocacy of hunters, anglers, and conservationists, the Everglades remain a destination location for the adventure-seeking archer or fowler. But out-of-staters oft come unprepared, deceived by heavily edited online videos of the easiest, most successful hunts.
Martinez offers a few tips for those who want to plan an Everglades expedition. The first is to not bite off more than you can chew; to realize how hot and inaccessible the southernmost tip of the nation can be.
“You’re gonna have a real hard time adapting to bow season in August in South Florida,” he says. First-timers should consider a late-winter or spring hunt, perhaps for hogs or turkeys in March, when the weather is cooler and water levels have receded. Or go for mid-winter snipe, which Martinez says are “probably wing shooting’s best kept secret” in the Everglades. If you only have two or three field days to spare, and plan to be on public land, it’s also probably best to seek a local guide.
Above all, if you head down to the Glades be sure to temper your expectations. “Don’t come to check a box and easily find success,” Martinez says. “Just come down for the experience.”
(Note: A version of this story also appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Backcountry Journal.)
Click here to support Everglades habitat conservation efforts by insisting that lawmakers continue to provide funding for critical infrastructure work.
Also check out our November 2023 blog on Ryan Nitz hunting barefoot in the Everglades.
Photo credits: All images courtesy of Richard Martinez
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.Learn More