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BLM WESTERN SOLAR PLAN: 2.55 MILLION ACRES AT RISK OF LOSING RECREATION ACCESS

| Rose Winn, Cal4wheel Natural Resources Consultant | Access Issues

There is a shift happening on public lands with the core driver centered in renewable energy: solar and wind power. The climate change agenda is rapidly impacting the priorities that public land managers place on “multiple-use management” of our public lands.

There has been a significant increase of solar farms on public land in recent years. The BLM Western Solar Plan created in 2012 identifies public lands eligible for fast-track solar farm development in multiple states: California, Washington, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, and Utah. The BLM is currently updating the Western Solar Plan in order to expand areas of public land suitable for solar energy development to meet a net carbon electricity goal by 2035. Public comments are now being accepted on the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. We need Cal4Wheel members to submit public comments to tell BLM to exclude your favorite OHV riding areas from the plan. With this current plan there is a variance process that potential solar projects have to go through in order to be approved. These renewable energy developments often conflict with recreation use.

On the positive side, all of the five Alternatives proposed for the Western Solar Plan exclude Special Recreation Management Areas (SRMAs) from solar energy development; thus, these areas could be affected only indirectly by solar energy facilities located close to their boundaries. However, on the negative side, the range of indirect impact on the quality and viability of the OHV riding experience at SRMAs is vast, including:

  • Change in the overall character of undeveloped BLM-administered lands to an industrialized, developed area that would displace people who are seeking more rural or primitive surroundings for recreation.
  • Changes to the visual landscape, impacts on vegetation, development of roads, and displacement of wildlife species resulting in reduction in recreational opportunities could degrade the recreational experience near where solar energy development occurs.

Additionally, the potential for solar projects to close public access to designated OHV routes that are outside of SRMAs is a real and impending threat to the future of OHV recreation in many popular areas of BLM land throughout California. The proposed plan states:

“Many BLM field offices have completed planning activities to designate lands for OHV use. Under these plans, areas open to application for solar energy development may be available for OHV use, and solar energy development in these areas would displace this use. Applications for solar energy facilities may include areas containing designated open OHV routes, thereby eliminating public access along those routes.

California counties where BLM land is at risk of losing recreation access include:

  • City and County of San Francisco
  • Del Norte County
  • Humboldt County
  • Imperial County
  • Los Angeles County
  • Marin County
  • Mendocino County
  • Monterey County
  • Orange County
  • San Diego County
  • San Luis Obispo County
  • San Mateo County
  • Santa Barbara County
  • Santa Cruz County
  • Ventura County

It is imperative for OHV enthusiasts to submit comments on the BLM Western Solar Plan to urge the BLM to exclude areas with designated OHV routes from the range of available land for construction of solar projects, and, to exclude construction of solar projects near the borders of SRMAs.

Public comments will be accepted through April 18. For more information on the BLM Western Solar Plan, and to submit a comment, go to: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2022371/510

If you have questions or would like to discuss how you will craft a comment for the Western Solar Plan, please reach out to Cal4Wheel Natural Resources Consultant, Rose Winn: rwinn@cal4nrc.com.

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