By Brian Zupancic
When it comes to doing what sportsmen and women love to do most, it doesn’t get much better than public lands. Public lands are wild, open spaces where we can cast to trout and salmon in cold flowing streams, chase big game and upland birds on lands that belong to all of us. For folks like us, public lands are paradise.
Public lands, however, are home to more than just great fishing and hunting. They support oil and gas production, mining, timber and livestock grazing. Managing public lands is a complex and an often difficult task, especially when it comes to minimizing the impacts of development on fish and game habitat.
Balancing conservation with new development
Over the past decade, the nation has steadily ramped up its development of new energy resources like wind and solar. While most of this development has taken place on private lands, we are starting to see wind and solar energy projects—particularly the big utility-scale operations—setting up shop on public lands. For this reason, Trout Unlimited has advocated strongly for the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act.
Using a portion of the annual lease royalties generated by new wind and solar energy projects sited on public lands, the bill creates a pool of dedicated funds for conservation. Through a grant process, groups like TU will be able to access the funds to perform on-the-ground work like stream restoration and access improvement projects to help offset the impacts of development. Moreover, the funds the bill creates can be used in regions surrounding projects. This will allow us to remedy the immediate impacts of development, and make improvements to the overall quality of watersheds and habitat in surrounding areas.
Broad and bipartisan support
Previous versions of the legislation have enjoyed the support of more than 30 national sportsmen’s organizations, the National Association of Counties, the Western Governors’ Association and numerous members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
With that kind of backing it’s no surprise that the proposal is making progress—last summer the House and Senate versions of the bill received positive legislative hearings—putting the bill on track to make further progress in the current session.
A bright outlook
Last month, Sens. Heller (R-NV), Heinrich (D-NM), Risch (R-ID), and Tester (D-MT) reintroduced the bill (S. 1407) in Congress. We appreciate these members for their leadership and for sharing our vision for the responsible development of public lands when it comes to renewable energy. Development can and should take place with respect to fish and game and our sporting heritage. As the bill moves through the legislative process we look forward to supporting their efforts to get it across the finish line.
In the coming weeks, S. 1407 will be back in front of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a legislative hearing, and with talk of a comprehensive energy package brewing in Congress, maybe, just maybe, this will be the year for renewable energy legislation.
We at TU sure hope so.
Brian Zupancic is the government affairs manager at Trout Unlimited. He works in TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.