The BLM has consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Solar Energy Program to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
On February 2, 2012, the BLM initiated formal programmatic Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on its proposed Solar Energy Program. This programmatic consultation was completed on July 20, 2012, and included consultation under both Section 7(a)(1) and Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA.
The BLM, in consultation with the USFWS, completed a conservation review pursuant to Section 7(a)(1) of the ESA on the overall Solar Energy Program, including the amendment of 89 land use plans. The conservation review considered BLM's exercise of its authority to contribute to conservation of listed species and avoid potential adverse effects to these species. The USFWS found that the selection of solar energy zones (SEZs), exclusion of certain areas from eligibility for solar energy development, application of design features to all solar energy development that will occur, and the review process applicable to development in variance areas outside of SEZs are likely to contribute to the conservation of listed species. The elements of the Solar Energy Program dealing with endangered and threatened species can be considered to constitute a program for their conservation as described by Section 7(a)(1) of the ESA.
In accordance with Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, the BLM submitted a programmatic Biological Assessment to the USFWS on the identification of SEZs. This Biological Assessment described potential effects on ESA-listed species and designated critical habitat from expected solar energy development in SEZs and any appropriate mitigation, minimization, and avoidance measures. Further Section 7(a)(2) consultation will occur, as necessary, for individual solar energy projects and will benefit from the preceding programmatic consultation and resulting programmatic Biological Opinion for SEZs. See Section 7.5 of the Record of Decision (ROD) for a summary of the findings and conclusions.
The BLM's programmatic Biological Assessment determined that the expected solar energy development in SEZs may affect but is not likely to adversely affect the following species: northern aplomado falcon (Falco femoralis septentrionalis), Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), Pahrump poolfish (Empetrichthys latos), southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailllii extimus), Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida), and Yuma clapper rail (Rallus longirostris yumanensis). The USFWS concurred with these determinations of may affect, not likely to adversely affect through its programmatic Biological Opinion dated July 20, 2012.
The BLM's programmatic Biological Assessment identified 17 species as likely to be adversely affected by the expected solar energy development in the SEZs: desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), Amargosa niterwort (Nitrophila mohavensis), Ash Meadows blazing-star (Mentzelia leucophylla), Ash Meadows gumplant (Grindelia fraxino-pratensis), Ash Meadows ivesia (Ivesia eremica), Ash Meadows milkvetch (Astragalus phoenix), Ash Meadows sunray (Enceliopsis nudicaulis var. corrugata), spring-loving centaury (Centaurium namophilum), Ash Meadows naucorid (Ambrysus amargosus), Ash Meadows amargosa pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis mionectes), Ash Meadows speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus nevadensis), Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis), Moapa dace (Moapa coriacea), Warm Springs pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis pectoralis), White River springfish (Crenichthys baileyi baileyi), Hiko White River springfish (Crenichthys baileyi grandis), and Pahranagat roundtail chub (Gila robusta jordani).
The USFWS concluded in its programmatic Biological Opinion, dated July 20, 2012, that expected solar energy development in SEZs, however, is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of these species and is not likely to destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat. The conservation recommendations put forth by the USFWS in its programmatic Biological Opinion have been incorporated into the Solar Energy Program as appropriate.
For future projects in SEZs, further Section 7(a)(2) consultation will occur, as necessary, at the level of individual solar energy projects, and will benefit from the preceding programmatic consultation and resulting programmatic Biological Opinion for SEZs. As individual projects are proposed in SEZs under the programmatic consultation approach, project-specific information will be provided that:
The USFWS will review this information and, if applicable, will complete a Biological Opinion that includes a project-specific incidental take statement. This document will generally require less effort to complete as compared to standard Section 7(a)(2) consultation because of the ability to utilize the analysis in the programmatic Biological Opinion.