WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Healthy Lands Initiative in the FY2008 budget will expand cooperative conservation efforts to help restore nearly half a million acres of western land that hosts world-class wildlife habitat and energy resources and provides major economic benefits to local communities.
The $22 million investment combines the wildlife science and land-managing expertise of Interior agencies with the knowledge and experience of local communities, companies and conservation groups to rehabilitate and protect working landscapes. The initiative is expected to leverage at least another $10 million in contributions from state, local and tribal governments, philanthropic organizations, advocacy groups and energy industry partners.
“Interior manages millions of acres of public lands as working landscapes for communities, supporting grazing, energy and minerals production, hunting and fishing and other recreational activities,” Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said. “As we seek enhanced energy security through domestic oil and natural gas production, we must maintain healthy lands for wildlife and their habitat.”
“We must actively manage species, such as the sage grouse, to prevent its listing under the Endangered Species Act and to assure the recovery of other threatened and endangered species,” Kempthorne said. “The Healthy Lands Initiative will allow us to accomplish that by providing new resources, innovative landscape-scale approaches to restoration and coordinated efforts among public and private partners.”
The initiative, the first of its kind, focuses on projects in six areas facing the greatest challenges in managing natural resources to maintain multiple use. Five of these areas contain the largest onshore reserves of natural gas in the country.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management will use $15 million of initiative funding to carry out landscape-scale restoration and enhancement activities in all habitat types, with a special focus on sagebrush, mountain shrub, aspen, and riparian communities. The BLM and other Interior agencies will work in partnership with federal leaseholders, private landowners, state, local, and tribal governments.
BLM has allocated its funding for the projects as follows: southwest Wyoming ($4.5 million); northwest and southeast portions of New Mexico ($3.5 million); Utah ($2 million); the three-corner state area between Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada ($1.9 million); south-central Idaho ($1.8 million); and southwestern Colorado ($1.3 million).
Wyoming’s Green River Basin is a priority site because its landscape and habitats are undergoing rapid change in response to recent energy resource development. The area’s sagebrush habitat supports significant numbers of plants and animals that depend on this ecosystem. Wyoming is home to more than 800 species, of which 12 are federally listed as threatened or endangered. The Green River Basin area alone has 9 listed species.
This area also is undergoing rapid, large-scale development to meet America’s growing need for energy. There are an estimated 1.9 billion barrels of oil and more than 57 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on federally managed lands in southwest Wyoming.
In addition to the BLM efforts in the Green River Basin, two other Interior bureaus, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), will contribute expertise to assist with the complex wildlife-energy interface issues in southwest Wyoming. The USGS will receive $5 million of initiative funding to build the geospatial framework for sharing information; assess the health of habitats and their resources; and monitor changes in landscapes to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of wildlife, terrestrial, and aquatic resources in energy development areas.
The FWS will use $2 million to work with private landowners to conserve species at risk, preclude the need to list species under the Endangered Species Act and restore priority habitats on private lands in the Green River Basin.
The landscape-scale restoration strategy of the Healthy Lands Initiative will use restoration practices such as hand thinning and mechanical and chemical removal of non-native species to reduce competition with native shrubs, grasses and flowering plants. Prescribed fire and green stripping will reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Aerial seeding will re-establish native plants. The initiative aims to restore about 35,000 acres in Wyoming and 65,000 in New Mexico.
Restored landscapes increase water quality and quantity; reduce erosion and silt deposits in streams and reservoirs; return healthy rangeland conditions with a mix of desired species; protect at-risk natural sites; and improve habitat for wildlife, such as sage-grouse, muledeer, antelope, quail and numerous other species. Restoration also reduces the buildup of invasive species, such as cheat grass and non-native shrubs that provide fuel for catastrophic wildfires.
The use of new technology also helps to reduce habitat impacts and to protect landscapes. For example, directional drilling, which allows access to multiple wells from a single drilling pad, reduces the environmental footprint of energy production, preserving critical habitat.