WASHINGTON – The mining industry has an opportunity to proactively join government and private land owners in assuring an adequate balance between energy development, wildlife and recreation in the President’s Healthy Lands Initiative, Assistant Secretary Steve Allred told industry representatives today.
“It is in our vital interests to ensure that wildlife species, such as the sage grouse, are not added to the Endangered Species List,” Allred said in keynote remarks delivered by audio conference to the Western Mining Conference. “Otherwise, we could face severely constrained public, as well as private, land use.”
The Western Mining Conference is a joint meeting of the Colorado Mining Association and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. Allred was scheduled to deliver his remarks in person but cancelled airline flights due to snowstorms prevented him from attending the conference in Denver, Colorado.
Allred, who oversees land and minerals management agencies at the Interior Department, emphasized the mining industry’s critical role in helping the nation to protect western landscapes and wildlife habitat while meeting the nation’s growing demand for energy by providing coal and other raw materials such as sand and gravel, from public and private lands. He urged the industry to expand and intensify conservation and restoration activities by participating in a Healthy Lands Initiative proposed in President Bush’s FY08 budget for Interior.
“This initiative proposes a new comprehensive, proactive approach to public land management,” Allred said. “It focuses on landscape-scale habitat conservation, instead of on a unit-by-unit basis, and uses an extensive partnership network and new land use planning techniques and policy tools.”
The proposal would accelerate and expand ongoing habitat restoration projects, focusing on key areas of the West where the work will provide the greatest benefit, he said. It is designed to better address wildlife needs through lifecycles – targeting migration routes, specialized breeding, nesting or wintering requirements. The FY08 Interior budget calls for $22 million for the initiative, which is expected to attract at least an additional $10 million in leveraged in-kind and monetary resources.
Allred noted that sage grouse habitat ranges across 10 western states, covering 165 million acres. About 72 percent of that land is under federal management and the sage grouse has already been considered for Endangered Species Act listing. “This habitat overlays significant energy and mineral deposits,” he noted. “The consequences of the species being listed would be significant.”
Citing findings of the Energy Information Administration, Allred noted that even with accelerated use of alternative and renewable energy, oil, natural gas and coal are expected to continue to meet the bulk of the nation’s energy requirements through 2030. Other minerals, such as sand and gravel and metallics, play a crucial role in support of energy development.
“This is why we need to work together for the health of the land, wildlife, local communities, the economy and our quality of life,” Allred said.
About one third of the nation’s domestic energy comes from Interior managed lands and offshore areas. This includes 44 percent of coal produced in the United States. Interior manages 500 million acres of public lands, most of which are in the West, and oversees oil and natural gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The mining industry has already invested considerable resources and made remarkable progress in leaving a lighter footprint on the land, Allred said. He noted the industry’s increasing use of innovative mining technology that minimizes environmental impacts and restoration techniques that re-contour, re-seed and enrich the soil, creating healthy landscapes with new wetland, forest and rangeland habitat.
“In many cases, the land is even more productive after reclamation than before mining,” he said. “Our goal is to support land use while keeping lands healthy and productive. This is something we all need to be involved in. We don’t have a choice – if we don’t do it now, we will be forced to deal with more Endangered Species Act listings and the consequences of that for energy and mineral production on public lands.”