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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

Oregon / Washington

Wind Energy Development Map: FAQ

Sage-grouse

1. What is the purpose of the "Challenges & Opportunities" Map?

The map displays both pending and authorized wind testing areas as well the many natural resource considerations that influence wind energy development on BLM administered lands in eastern Oregon. The BLM provides this map of potential wind energy development information and key regional natural resource information to foster collaborative solutions in the planning and siting of infrastructure projects on public lands.

The map highlights where there are opportunities for wind energy development and also where there are areas of potential conflict between wind energy development and high value natural resources.

2. What do the colored areas of the "Challenges & Opportunities" Map indicate?

The colored areas represent public lands with important natural resource values and indicate the potential degree of complexity wind energy development will likely face within those areas. Where there are high concentrations of important resource values, there would be a higher level of complexity in the development of wind energy. If an area has one or more colors this indicates there may be an increased potential of conflict for wind energy development, and more research and discussion is needed.

The "BLM Special Emphasis Areas" are the only mapped areas that are currently restricted or disqualified from wind energy development consideration. The "ODFW Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Area GIS layers" indicate areas that could also be challenging and complex for wind energy development proposals. Both the "BLM Special Emphasis Areas" and "ODFW Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Area GIS layers" are discussed in detail below.

The scale of the map is regional and covers the vast landscape of eastern Oregon. The regional information provided in this map does not necessarily include site level information. All potential wind energy development projects are subject to site level analysis and verification.

3. Why were Greater Sage-grouse, mule deer, and pygmy rabbit layers chosen for the map?

The Oregon/Washington BLM district offices east of the Cascades have experienced a several-fold increase in the number of applications for Right-of-Ways (ROWs) for possible wind development and other forms of renewable energy in the last five years, primarily in sagebrush habitat. In response to this application increase, the BLM map focuses on sagebrush obligate species including Greater Sage-grouse habitat, pygmy rabbit habitat, and mule deer winter range because these species or their habitats are important from a regional conservation perspective where cumulative effects can become a major issue; they occupy habitat upon which numerous additional sagebrush obligate species rely, the BLM administers a substantial portion of the species habitat; they have economic significance; they are regulated under existing law (Endangered Species Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act), or they have the potential to be listed as threatened or endangered.

Mule Deer

BLM manages a substantial portion of the mule deer's winter range. Mule deer winter ranges transcend jurisdictional boundaries requiring coordination among the BLM District Offices. The "Challenges & Opportunities" map uses Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) generated geospatial statewide coverage data to show important winter ranges.

Mule deer habitats are facing unprecedented threats from a wide variety of human-related developments and Federal agencies such as the BLM are integral to the conservation of the remaining tracts of mule deer habitat. A 2001 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports that over 4 million people hunted mule deer in the 18 western states. Mule deer are valued as an integral part of the western landscape by hunters and non-hunters alike. According to the same FWS survey, 22.5 million residents in 18 western states spent 102.6 million days "watching wildlife" in 2001.

Pygmy Rabbits

Pygmy rabbits were selected for the map because the BLM administers a vast majority of their remaining habitat. Like the mule deer, the pygmy rabbit's habitat transcends jurisdictional boundaries and there is a need for landscape scale management to conserve the species. The existing range and location of known sites and areas of influence are depicted in the Maps and are the result of surveys completed by Oregon BLM and are based on the known science for this species, which is limited at this time.

The pygmy rabbit is considered a sensitive species/species of concern by the BLM in Oregon. The pygmy rabbit has a broad distribution within Great Basin sagebrush communities but current populations are scattered due to habitat loss (Weiss and Verts 1984, Gabler et al. 2000). This species is known to occupy less than 5 to 10 % of its former geographic range and was listed by Washington State as an endangered species by emergency rule on November 30, 2001. A current petition seeks listing for the rabbit over its entire range.

Greater Sage-grouse

Greater Sage-grouse were selected for the map because of their importance as a sagebrush ecosystem health indicator species and because of the recent FWS, March 15, 2010 "warranted but precluded" decision relative to the listing of Greater Sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (see question 6 for more information). Federal lands make up about 72% of the remaining North American Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Of that total, 52% is managed by the BLM. Oregon Greater Sage-grouse populations make up at least 20% of the total North American population and the Oregon/Washington BLM manages 70% of the remaining Greater Sage-grouse habitat in the state. As an active partner in Federal, state, and local Greater Sage-grouse conservation planning efforts and as the primary Federal manager of Greater Sage-grouse habitat, the BLM is in a key position to contribute to Greater Sage-grouse habitat conservation from the range wide geographic scale to the local level. (See questions 5, 6, and 7 for additional Greater Sage-grouse related information.)

4. What happens if energy development is proposed in "BLM Special Emphasis Areas"?

While there may be exceptions, in general, the BLM Special Emphasis Areas are highly likely to have inherent conflict with energy development. The BLM Special Emphasis Areas map depicts a category of lands that would likely have restrictions or may be excluded from potential energy development. These areas have special emphasis or restrictions through law, regulation, Presidential Proclamation, executive order or are identified in existing land use plans because of their outstanding natural, cultural, scenic, scientific, recreational and other special resource values. The BLM-administered lands that are excluded due to statute or Presidential Proclamation include lands within the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). Categories of NLCS lands from which development is excluded are: National Monuments, National Conservation Areas and similar designations, Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Scenic and Historic Trails. Administrative designations, such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) and lands with Visual Resource Management (VRM) Classes I and II, are likely to be highly restricted or excluded under existing land use plan decisions.

All of the BLM Special Emphasis Areas indicate some degree of potential complexity. If development is proposed within the BLM Special Emphasis Areas, the first step is to determine what specific designation applies to the area under review. As with any GIS layer on the BLM "Challenges & Opportunities" map, it is important to remember that the scale of the map is regional, covering the vast landscape of eastern Oregon. The BLM is providing this information to help stakeholders make informed decisions and better understand what they can expect within a given BLM Special Emphasis Area. The map does not necessarily include site-specific information, and project analysis and verification are required for all wind energy proposals.

Below are summary definitions of the designations contained within the BLM Special Emphasis Areas layer. They are provided to help clarify if energy development proposals can, or cannot, be considered within each specific designation.

5. How does the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Area layers on the map correspond to the BLM management requirements for Greater Sage-grouse?

The ODFW Greater Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density layers represent Core and Low Density area habitats that were identified in ODFW's Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Assessment and Strategy for Oregon: A Plan to Maintain and Enhance Populations and Habitat (ODFW Sage-grouse Strategy) released in April 2011. The ODFW Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density layer represents high density breeding areas where the primary objective is protection. The Low Density Area habitats are areas where impacts to Sage-grouse populations may be less of a risk and where opportunities to mitigate for best habitat may occur. The BLM utilizes the ODFW Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density map layers, along with its own Sage-grouse guidance, in assessing threats and risks, and potential mitigation strategies, to Sage-grouse resulting from management actions and proposed actions on BLM administered lands.

The BLM Sage-grouse guidance includes a National Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy (2004) and supplemental guidance to that strategy that was issued in March 2010, and most recently updated with the National Sage Grouse Planning Strategy.

Implementing the National Greater Sage-grouse Planning Strategy allows Oregon BLM the opportunity to fully consider long-term sage-grouse conservation and habitat restoration guidance contained in the Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Assessment and Strategy for Oregon published by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The BLM's Sage-grouse guidance is consistent with the ODFW strategy. Through Instruction Memorandum OR-2009-038, Oregon BLM issued formal guidance to field units to maintain consistency with the state's recommendations for constructing wind energy grids in Greater Sage-grouse habitat.

6. Is the Greater Sage-grouse listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act?

In March 2010, the FWS determined that protection of the Greater Sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was warranted. However, listing the Greater Sage-grouse was precluded by the need to address other species facing greater risk of extinction. The Greater Sage-grouse is now a candidate species for listing. The primary threats to the Greater Sage-grouse across its range are habitat loss and fragmentation (including wildfire), invasive plants, energy development, urbanization, agricultural conversion, and grazing.

In the state of Oregon, the BLM manages 70% of currently occupied Greater Sage-grouse habitat in Oregon; 21% is privately-owned, and the remainder (9%) occurs on lands owned by the State, Forest Service, or FWS. Federal agencies such as the BLM are responsible for managing habitat on the lands under their respective jurisdictions. Because the majority of Greater Sage-grouse habitat in Oregon occurs on BLM administered lands, it is important for the BLM work in collaboration with the ODFW, other public agencies, and stakeholders to address any potential candidate species concerns.

7. What happens if energy development is proposed in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Areas on the BLM lands?

The BLM provides the ODFW Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density map layers and information to help create awareness of the potential complexity for development in these areas. In the state of Oregon, the BLM manages approximately 70% of currently occupied Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Because of this, it is important for the BLM to work in collaboration with the ODFW. Each potential project that occurs in ODFW Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Areas on the BLM lands will be evaluated individually and subject to NEPA review. For renewable energy projects proposed on the BLM lands that are identified as ODFW Core and Low Density, the BLM will identify site specific mitigation and stipulations in coordination with both the ODFW and the USFWS, and other stakeholders, where appropriate.

While the BLM supports the ODFW habitat designations and endorses the methodology used to develop the habitat designations, the BLM will use discretion to develop through the NEPA process its own mitigation policy and site specific stipulations to address any proposed wind energy development in these areas as appropriate. Use of the Core Area and Low Density map layers should not be considered formal BLM adoption of the ODFW mitigation recommendations.

8. What Methodology was used to develop the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Area map layers?

The July 15, 2011 ODFW CORE AREA FACT SHEET states:

The maps and data provide a tool for planning and identifying appropriate mitigation in the event of human development in sage-grouse habitats. These maps show both Core and Low Density area habitats. Regardless of the location of an industrial development with respect to sage-grouse Core Areas, ODFW staff will conduct local analyses to verify that habitats within Core or Low Density are in fact sage-grouse habitat. Generally, ODFW staff will recommend: avoidance of impacts to sage-grouse habitat that occur in Core Areas, and mitigation at no net loss with net benefit for impacts to sage-grouse habitat that occur in Low Density Areas.

The goal of the Core Area recommendations is to protect essential habitats to meet habitat and population objectives identified in the Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan. The objective of these recommendations is to avoid, minimize or mitigate for impacts on sage-grouse habitats from energy development, its associated infrastructure or other landscape-scale industrial and commercial developments.

About the Core Area Approach

Recently, a landscape approach to sage-grouse habitat protection has been developed across the Western states. This landscape approach is commonly referred to as Core Areas. Specifically, this approach prioritizes habitats based on measures that assess breeding bird density of sage-grouse populations and associated habitats. ODFW's Core Area approach is consistent with range-wide efforts to map important population strongholds by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The strength of the Core Area approach is that it uses biological information to identify important habitats with the objective of protecting the highest density breeding areas. It also enables managers, at the landscape scale, to map and analyze the risks and necessary conservation measures for each core area.

For sage-grouse the relative breeding bird density data is drawn from spring lek counts of males, so habitat conservation measures may focus on breeding and nesting areas only. To address this, a complementary method was used to approximate seasonal use ranges referred to as connectivity corridors.

More information about Sage-grouse Core Area and Low Density Areas is available on ODFW's website. ODFW's Mitigation Policy is outlined in OAR 635-415-0000.

The methodology used to develop the Strategy is the same as the BLM is using nationally and is consistent with existing BLM national policy. The Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Assessment and Strategy for Oregon: A Plan to Maintain and Enhance Populations and Habitat identifies and maps Core Areas of habitat that are essential to Sage-grouse conservation.

9. How many acres/pending/approved projects does the BLM currently have?

As of February, 2012, the BLM has received:

  1. Pending Wind Testing and future development areas (ROW Type1): There are 13 pending wind testing and future development areas in the amount of 39,100.58 acres, all located in Oregon.

  2. Authorized wind testing and future development areas (ROW Type2):
  • There are 13 authorized wind testing and future development areas in the amount of 153,286.91 acres.
  • There are 10 authorized in Oregon in the amount of 127,612.67 acres.
  • There are 3 authorized in Washington in the amount of 25,674.24 acres.
  1. Authorized Wind Testing and Pending Wind Farm (ROW Type 3):
  • There are four pending wind farm applications for a total of 30,182.23 acres.
  • There are three pending wind farm applications for Oregon with a total of 30,142.23 acres and one pending wind farm application in Washington encompassing 40 acres.
  1. Authorized Wind Testing and Authorized Wind Farm (ROW Category 4): There is one authorized wind farm development in the amount of 9 acres. Lime Wind was authorized in December 2010 for a full development wind farm.

10. What happens when a project has been authorized? Does this mean a wind farm will be built?

The terminology required by regulations is confusing, and it is important to distinguish between Pending and Authorized Right-of-Ways (ROWs).

  1. Pending Wind Testing Area (Application Submitted) - Definition: Application for ROW filed with the BLM. (No structures or ground disturbance) (ROW Type 1)
  2. Authorized Wind Testing Area - Definition: Application for ROW has been granted by the BLM. This allows the applicant to begin meteorological testing/ feasibility analysis. (Allows placement of testing equipment such as MET towers) (ROW Type 2)
  3. Authorized Wind Testing Area and Pending Wind Farm - Definition: Applicant has conducted meteorological testing/ feasibility analysis and may now seek approval to establish a wind farm. (ROW Type 3)
  4. Authorized Wind Testing Area and Authorized Wind Farm - Definition: Applicant has conducted meteorological testing/ feasibility analysis, conducted NEPA analysis, and has been granted ROW and issued a Notice to Proceed by the BLM to establish a wind farm. (Turbines, and infrastructure can be built) (ROW Type 4)

When a project has been authorized they have been issued a ROW grant for a specific right. For example, under the ROW defined in number 2, Authorized Wind Testing Area, the holder of the ROW grant is allowed to install meteorological (MET) towers. If they were granted future development areas it would preclude other applications for wind development in the area for three years. Not all authorized wind testing areas are developed into a wind farm. As another example, under the ROW defined in number 4, Authorized Wind Testing Area and Authorized Wind Farm, the holder of the ROW grant is allowed to install wind turbines and other related components based on what is authorized in the ROW grant. A qualified applicant does not have to go in numerical order in order to request development of a wind farm. A qualified applicant could submit an application for a wind farm without a previous request for wind testing. The holder of a ROW grant could also develop the project in phases based on the information that they submitted in their approved Plan of Development.

It is important to note that each step in this process has an appropriate level of NEPA review. As the definitions below illustrate, only when an applicant reaches the ROW defined in number 4, Authorized Wind Testing Area and Authorized Wind Farm, can a wind farm be built. Additionally, an applicant may be authorized to proceed but opt to not fully develop and build. The presence of MET towers does not necessarily ensure the area will ultimately become a fully developed wind farm. MET towers are used to gauge the feasibility of further development based on actual site specific data.

11. How does Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act compliance influence wind energy development on BLM administered lands?

The BLM is subject to legal requirements for Bald and Golden Eagle conservation and protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act). The BLM was also subject to Endangered Species Act requirements for the Bald Eagle for the period that it was listed. On September 11, 2009, the FWS published "Eagle Permits; Take Necessary to Protect Interest in Particular Localities; Final Rules" (Eagle Rule) in the Federal Register, creating a regulatory mechanism by which individual and programmatic "take" of Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles could be permitted under the Eagle Act for authorized uses and activities on the BLM administered lands.

Subsequent to the Final Rules, the FWS issued draft guidance relative to programmatic take permits on February 18, 2011. This draft Eagle Conservation Plan (ECP) Guidance was available for public review through May 19, 2011. The draft ECP Guidance explains the Service's approach to issuing programmatic Eagle take permits and clarifies the provisions of the Eagle Rule.

Pending final FWS ECP Guidance, the BLM is following national BLM guidance through Instruction Memorandum IM No. 2010-156, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act–Golden Eagle National Environmental Policy Act and Avian Protection Plan Guidance for Renewable Energy.

On February 18, 2011, the FWS also announced the availability of draft Voluntary, Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines for public review. The draft guidelines outline a process for developers and agency staff to use in selecting sites for wind energy facilities that avoid and minimize impacts to fish, wildlife and their habitats resulting from construction, operation and maintenance of land-based wind energy facilities. Public comments were accepted through May 19, 2011.

Wind energy proponents should be aware that compliance with the Eagle Act is a dynamic and adaptable process which may require the applicant to conduct further analysis and mitigation following assessment of operational impacts.

12. Why is the BLM displaying the Draft Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Historic Golden Eagle Nest location layer on the interactive and habitat only "Challenges & Opportunities" map?

The BLM and other federal agencies are responsible for managing and protecting important natural resources and species such as the golden eagle. The BLM supports providing the public and energy development proponents the best available information on the natural resource issues facing BLM administered lands in Oregon.

In support of the implementation of the Eagle Rule, the FWS cooperatively developed the Golden Eagle Nest Locations Through 2011 layer. This layer was developed using legacy data from a variety of sources and combined with current information obtained during field observations in 2011. An intensive two-year field inventory was initiated in February 2011 in cooperation with the Oregon Eagle Foundation, FWS, BLM, and other partners to begin refining nest site locations and developing a breeding population estimate for golden eagles in Oregon. This information will be used to aid in the development of Eagle Conservation Plans and Golden Eagle take permits where appropriate. The results of the 2011 inventory work are detailed in the First Annual Project Report and the 2012 field season is already underway. It is anticipated that the 2011 layer will be updated again in December of 2012 with inventory information collected during the 2012 field season. This layer is not intended to serve as a substitute for site specific inventory and analysis as described in the FWS 2011 Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidelines. It should be noted that the scale of the map is regional and covers the vast landscape of eastern Oregon. The regional information provided in this map does not include site level information. All potential energy development projects are subject to site level analysis and verification.

For more information on the Golden Eagle Nest Locations Through 2011 layer please see the Data Caveats below. For additional information and data requests, please contact the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center.

Data Caveats for Historical Golden Eagle Layer (c. 1958–2010)

  1. No warranty is made by the FWS as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of these data for individual or aggregate use with other data. Original data were compiled from various sources. The information may not meet National Map Accuracy Standards. This project was developed through digital means and may be updated without notification.
  2. Golden Eagle nest location data presented here is not intended for land use planning and analysis purposes and should be considered draft. Location data is provided solely for use in developing an inventory strategy intended to determine precise nest locations and develop a breeding population estimate for Oregon.
  3. The data were based on reports from others, often second- or third-hand interpretations from files, rather than original field work.
  4. This data reflects only those nest sites that were reported through 2010.
  5. The locations were described inconsistently, often covered large areas such as a square mile, and were not field-verified for accuracy.
  6. Statewide coverage was unknown. There was no systematic survey of the landscape. Locations were gathered opportunistically or as part of local projects. Consequently, the absence of a location on the map does not mean that there was not a Golden Eagle nest in the area.
  7. Current nest locations within breeding areas may be different from those portrayed on the maps, especially tree nests which are more ephemeral than cliff nests.
  8. The nest use data were not collected annually or following an accepted protocol. Consequently, summaries or comparisons have little value.

13. What do the 2011 BLM Priority Wind Energy Projects displayed on the "Challenges and Opportunities" map represent?

The BLM recently issued a national priority list of renewable energy projects for the western United States. The list includes nine solar projects, five wind projects, and five geothermal projects. Two of the projects are located in Oregon on private lands: West Butte Wind Right-of-Way (ROW) and North Steens Transmission ROW. The projects on private land are "connected action" projects that will require BLM ROW authorizations for off-site facilities (40 CFR 1508.25 (a) (1)).

BLM's national list of priority projects was developed in collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. To be identified as a priority project, a company must demonstrate to the BLM that the project has progressed far enough to formally start the environmental review and public participation process, as well as have the potential to be cleared for approval by the end of 2011. In addition, the projects must be sited in an area that minimizes impacts to the environment. The projects are largely low-to-medium conflict, in accordance with the BLM's recent policy guidance on pre-application screening.

For more information on the priority projects please visit http://www.blm.gov/priorityprojects.

14. Why is the BLM only displaying a wind energy development map?

In Oregon, the current demand for wind development exceeds other renewable and conventional energy development. Wind development has successful establishment within the Columbia Basin. As such, the BLM is concentrating on wind energy first because the complex allocation of resource uses and protections on public lands, and the increasing concern of fragmentation of sagebrush habitats, necessitates the BLM to synthesize existing information, data, planning decisions, and policies into a more readily available format. In order to make this synthesis understandable and relevant to the specific interest of stakeholders, the BLM is first concentrating on wind energy.

Other energy developers including renewable, conventional, and nonconventional, may also utilize the information provided in this map. While wind energy may have differing challenges from other forms of energy development, all development will need to address ground disturbance, infrastructure, and transmission lines. Based on feedback and interest from stakeholders, the BLM anticipates that in the future this project will expand to address renewable energy resources such as solar or geothermal.