Launching a landscape-based mitigation strategy on April 10, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell took a bold step forward in the management and stewardship of U.S. public lands. Harnessing a variety of new tools and taking a holistic, science-driven and collaborative public-private sector approach to public lands management and stewardship, the Department of the Interior’s landscape-scale mitigation strategy aims to reconcile the often conflicting goals of development and conservation.
With the new strategy, the department aims to encourage the dual objectives of smart development and conservation by providing “clarity and consistency to more effectively avoid, minimize and compensate for impacts on public lands.”
As Secretary Jewell explained in a press release: “This strategy outlines the key principles and actions we need to take to successfully shift from a reactive, project-by-project approach to more predictable and effective management of the lands and resources that we manage on behalf of the American public.
“The goal is to provide greater certainty for project developers when it comes to permitting and better outcomes for conservation through more effective and efficient project planning. Through advances in science and technology, advance planning, and collaboration with stakeholders, we know that development and conservation can both benefit – and that’s the win-win this mitigation strategy sets out to achieve.”
Conservation and development: Can the twain ever meet?
Secretary Jewell’s launch of Interior’s new landscape-scale mitigation strategy comes at a pivotal point in the evolution of U.S. conservation and public lands management, occurring coincidentally with a confrontation between Clark County, Nev. rancher Cliven Bundy and supporters with Bureau of Land Management officials.
The juxtaposition of the two events poignantly highlights the longstanding, ongoing tensions between federal, state, and local government agencies and officials and private landowners throughout the Western U.S., as well as the all-too-often irreconcilable conflicting interests and trade-offs posed at the nexus of ecological conservation and economic development.
It’s exactly those tensions, trade-offs and conflicts of interest that Secretary Jewell and Interior aim to reconcile with the launch of the landscape-scale mitigation strategy. In carrying it out, the department is harnessing the latest technological tools and scientific methods to take a broader, holistic approach to management and stewardship of U.S. public lands. The science is being used to inform policy and decision-making in an open, inclusive and collaborative dialogue among stakeholders at every level.
“We need to use the tools that are available to us to think of our landscapes in a way that sets them up for the long-term future,” Secretary Jewell stated in an online video. “We are seeing the impacts of climate change, we are seeing the impacts of invasive species.
“Our lands are being challenged, and yet we know that our economy also runs on development. This gives us an opportunity to achieve some of the objectives that we need to in a changing climate, in a time when we’ve got more people that need places to breathe, but also that helps drive economic activity that is so important to our country.”
A landscape-scale approach for smart development
Four priority areas of ongoing and future work were outlined in the release of Interior’s new strategy: geospatial assessments, landscape-level strategies, compensatory mitigation programs, and monitoring and evaluation. Near-term actions the department will take to put the report’s recommendations into practice are also identified.
As Secretary Jewell elaborated:
“What this mitigation strategy does is it says to those who are interested in developing, we want you to look not on a project-by-project basis, but at a whole landscape. If you’re going to develop in one area and it has an impact – which development generally does – here’s the area of highest potential, and here’s where we’d like you to put your mitigation dollars.”
Among the new technology the department is putting to use in the effort to take a broader, holistic, landscape-scale approach to conservation and development of U.S. public lands are the National Geospatial Database and the Western Governors’ CHAT (Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool).
As Secretary Jewell went on to explain:
“We can think more holistically about landscapes: what areas are too special to develop, what areas have high development potential, and how can we de-conflict those so that people go into these landscapes understanding how they can develop and how they can mitigate. And we can marry the two together. If we work together it doesn’t have to be either conservation or development; we can have both.”
Landscape-scale mitigation: Now in effect
The application of landscape-scale environmental and natural resource management is no pie-in-the-sky attempt to reconcile irreconcilable differences, the secretary highlighted. The landscape-scale mitigation strategy has already shown it can be effective in enacting science-based policies and decisions that reconcile the trade-offs and conflicts of interest inherent between conservation and natural resource development.
Secretary Jewell cited development of CHAT by the Western Governors Association, which maps fish and wildlife across the West, and the federal government carrying out the first lease-sale for offshore wind power as examples.
As Secretary Jewell continued, the process of carrying out the offshore wind power lease-sale was “de-conflicted by knowing where the fishing places were, where the boats needed to transit, where we needed to be from a safety standpoint, from a visual standpoint, and again from a tribal standpoint. So those are a handful of examples on a state level and on a federal level where this is already being put into effect.”
Images courtesy of the Department of the Interior