Soil Resources

BLM Authorized Management Activities Affecting Soil

Fire – Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation

Following wildfires, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) may determine that emergency or long-term rehabilitation actions are needed to protect valuable resources, such as soils, and/or to reduce the potential for invasive species spread, which also impacts soil. Emergency stabilization (i.e., actions taken within one year following containment of a wildfire) is conducted to stabilize and prevent unacceptable degradation to land resources (including soil). Emergency soil stabilization actions include:

  • Placing structures to slow soil and water movement.
  • Stabilizing soil to prevent loss of degradation or productivity.
  • Installing protective fences or barriers to protect treated or recovering areas.

Rehabilitation includes efforts undertaken within three years of containment of a wildfire to repair or improve fire-damaged lands unlikely to recover naturally to management approved conditions.

For more information see BLM Handbook H-1742-1 Burned Area Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Handbook. Regional or State Rangeland Health Standards and Guidelines may include additional direction concerning post fire rehabilitation.

Minerals Management

BLM leases rights to mine minerals and other materials on BLM-managed lands. Solid minerals include the following:

  • Non­energy leasable minerals, such as phosphate;
  • Locatable minerals, which are associated with mining claims and include both metallic minerals (gold, silver, lead, etc.) and nonmetallic minerals (fluorspar, asbestos, mica, etc.); and
  • Mineral materials such as sand, gravel, and stone.

Lessees must complete environmental documents for resource exploration, development, production, and reclamation activities. These documents can help identify potential impacts to soil, which can be significant, as large and potentially deep areas of soil are disturbed. Anyone removing mineral materials must comply with applicable laws and land use plans. BLM conducts inspection and production verification to assure compliance with the terms of the contract or permit, and prevention and abatement of unauthorized use.

Oil & Gas Development

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) incorporates appropriate best management practices (BMPs) into Applications for Permit to Drill and associated on- and off-lease rights-of-way approvals to help ensure that oil and natural gas drilling and production are conducted in an environmentally responsible manner. BMPs relevant to soils may reduce the amount of vegetation lost to development or speed the regrowth of vegetation.

Additionally, BLM may require “Interim Reclamation” to restore vegetation and soil resources while a well continues to produce energy. With interim reclamation, all areas not needed for the production of oil and gas are reclaimed, that is, reshaped, covered with topsoil, and reseeded with native plants. When the well no longer produces oil and gas, final reclamation begins. The well is sealed (plugged) with cement to protect freshwater aquifers. The entire well location and access road are reshaped as closely as possible to the original contour, covered with topsoil, and reseeded.

Recreational Activities

BLM lands offer a variety of diverse recreational opportunities, and many of those activities impact or are impacted by soil resources, such as camping, hunting, and visiting natural and cultural heritage sites, just to name a few. To ensure soil resources are not negatively impacted by recreational activities, BLM may establish thresholds for numbers, types, and duration of visitor use. The public can limit their impact on the environment, including soil, during recreation activities by doing the following:

  • Travel only on designated roads and trails or permitted areas;
  • Travel only in areas that are open to your type of recreation;
  • Use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, and four-wheel drive vehicles only in designated areas; and
  • Use existing campsites whenever possible, camp on durable surfaces, and place tents on non-vegetated areas.

Renewable Energy Development

The BLM, along with other agencies (e.g., the Department of Energy), have prepared programmatic environmental impact statements (PEIS) that assesses the impacts, including soil, associated with various types of renewable energy development on BLM-managed lands (such as solar, wind, geothermal, and electrical transmission facilities and energy corridors).

Related Energy Development Links

BLM Websites
Solar Energy
Wind Energy
Geothermal
Biomass
Electrical Transmission Facilities

         

Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements (PEIS)
Wind PEIS
Geothermal PEIS
Solar PEIS
Electrical Transmission Energy Corridors PEIS

Although there are various site specific soil issues and management strategies to protect soil, the following are some general characteristics that apply to many of the renewable energy development (as well as other energy and resource use) projects:

Development of large tracts of land up to several thousand acres would result in impacts on soil resources in terms of soil compaction and erosion.

Removal of large amounts of vegetation, which could result in significant soil impacts in terms of increased risk of invasive species introduction, soil erosion, and damage to biological soil crusts.

Activities that could impact soils include clearing, excavation, blasting, trenching, grading, and heavy vehicle traffic.

Erosion of exposed soils can lead to increased sedimentation of nearby water bodies and fugitive dust generation, which could affect local air quality.

The following mitigation measures and best management practices (BMPs) could be applied in the field to mitigate the impacts on soil; specific measures would be selected after considering factors that cause soil erosion, such as rainfall characteristics, runoff, soil erodibility, slope length, slope steepness, and vegetation cover:

Develop restoration plans to identify reclamation, soil stabilization, and erosion reduction measures that could be implemented to ensure impacted areas are restored properly.

Develop a storm water management plan for the site to ensure compliance with applicable regulations and prevent increased soil erosion.

Reclaim disturbed soils as quickly as possible or apply protective covers. Salvage and reapply topsoil from all excavations and construction activities during reclamation and leave plant debris on-site to serve as mulch.

Use existing roads when possible. Avoid excessive grades on roads, road embankments, ditches, and drainages, especially in areas with erodible soils and use special construction techniques, where applicable. Re-contour and re-vegetate abandoned roads and roads that are no longer needed.

Identify unstable slopes and local factors that can induce slope instability (such as groundwater conditions, precipitation, earthquake activities, and slope angles). Also avoid creating excessive slopes during excavation and blasting operations.

Retain stabilizing vegetation on unstable soils and avoid new roads or heavy equipment use on unstable or highly erodible soils.

Vegetative Management

Vegetation and ground cover maintain soil conditions that can sustain natural biotic communities. The vegetation within an area determines the area’s uses, productivity, resistance to disturbance, and scenic quality. The vegetation protects the soil from erosion; provides habitat for wildlife; provides food, fuel and fiber for human use; shapes the visual character of the landscape setting; and, largely determines the area’s capability to support various uses. Monitoring is needed to help the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) determine potential uses and limitations of the vegetative resource. Because the agency’s activities can cause changes in plant communities, monitoring helps BLM evaluate how management affects vegetation, including its sustainability and future potential. Since changes in plant communities are often the first detectable changes in an area, they provide the earliest indication that management actions may be causing impacts that affect the area’s long-term potential. For more information see BLM Handbook H-1740-2 Integrated Vegetation Management.


Topics

Soils and Ecosystem Stability
·Soil Indicators and Function
·Soil Quality Assessment
·Soil Management
·Soil Issues
·BLM Authorized Management Activities Affecting Soil
·Organic Matter

Using the Web Soil Survey
Soils and Vegetation
·Ecological Sites and Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs)
·State and Transition Model (STM)
·STM Example
·STM Application and Use
Restoration and Recovery