Photo courtesy of Rick and Susie Graetz
Thursday, March 7, 2013
If you’ve hunted or fished on public lands in the West over the last dozen years or so, you’ve been witness to the large-scale industrial development of some of the most important fish and game habitat left in the United States.
If you’re like me, you want a do-over. A mulligan, if you will.
In our haste to pull as much domestic fuel from beneath public lands as we could, we forgot about the above-ground fish and game resources that depend on intact habitat for survival.
Since the new century began, we’ve lost about half our mule deer herd on the Pinedale Anticline in western Wyoming, just by turning their winter range into a maze of roads, rigs and well pads.
We drilled for gas on the banks of Fish Creek—a native Colorado River cutthroat trout stream in the Wyoming Range—and we constructed the infrastructure that allowed big-rig traffic into the once-pristine backcountry to do it.
As a result, we’ve affected hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat, and we’ve put at risk our priceless watersheds, the trout that swim in them and the game that depend on them for survival.
Just as importantly, for sportsmen and women, we’ve lost many opportunities to fish and hunt on lands that belong to every single American, no matter where they live across this great nation.
If only we could turn back the clock, right? Unfortunately, that can’t happen. But, as we stand on the precipice of the “next big thing”—the fast-paced development of America’s renewable wind and solar resources—we have an unparalleled opportunity to be proactive … to get things right before all we have left are more regrets. T
he Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013 now sits before both chambers of Congress, and it has bipartisan support. The bill provides a common-sense approach to ensuring renewable energy development on our public lands doesn’t take the same toll on our fish, game and opportunity that oil and gas drilling have exacted in recent years.
The bill would use royalty fees from competitive public lands wind and solar leases to fund the permitting agencies, as well as provide revenue for the impacted counties and states.
For anglers and hunters, the bill would require that at least a quarter of the royalty fees collected from these leases be put into a conservation fund that can be used to offset the impact of the development by improving fish and game habitat.
The federal agencies in charge of processing permits for wind and solar development would receive a small share of the funds to catch up with the backlog of existing permit applications, lessening the burden on taxpayers and ensuring an efficient process that won’t easily be bogged down.
And, considering the larger issues surrounding the energy debate, working to responsibly develop more renewable energy projects is a good thing for the nation and the environment.
For counties and states that are home to potential renewable energy projects, the royalty payments ensure them a piece of the pie—this is money that can help local communities deal with the need for increased services, growing populations and the challenges that come with industrial growth.  It gives these predominantly rural communities a chance to earn money from large swaths of public land within their borders.
Finally, for sportsmen and women, the conservation fund created by these projects will ensure future hunting and fishing opportunity on public lands which, after all, provide the most accessible and affordable fishing and hunting in America.
In the House, the bill is sponsored by Reps. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California Joe Heck, and Republican from Nevada and Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.
In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sens. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, and Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana.
This is common-sense legislation that needs to move through Congress quickly, so we can proactively manage responsible renewable energy development on public lands. This bill represents an opportunity for Congress to come together for the good of America’s energy future.
Please contact your state’s federal delegation and ask them to support the Renewable Energy Act of 2013. Doing so will help ensure a bright future for hunting, fishing and recreation on America’s public lands, as well as clean, renewable sources of energy well into the future.
Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.
"I t's redundant to what the state's really requiring of us. We don’t really see a change.
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