For the last year, a BLM public process has actively worked toward achieving a sensible balance so that public lands can play a role in incorporating solar into a national energy portfolio. By directing development to zones that exclude irreplaceable hunting and fishing opportunities, critical habitat and game species movement corridors, we can have more certainty for wildlife and habitat. This type of guided development on the front end will help increase the likelihood of successful projects, supporting the efforts to get clean energy online faster and at a lower cost. By and large, American sportsmen stand behind this effort, and members of the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition support the agency’s solid efforts so far.

But sportsmen have concerns that must be addressed. The overall plan must do more to take into account fish and wildlife species beyond just birds, bats and sensitive species. The evaluation of impacts to important game species, like desert bighorn sheep and mule deer, and public lands hunting and fishing is lacking and must be addressed. Millions of Americans recreate on public lands each year and will not support permanent closures without consideration of how these outdoor opportunities will be replaced. To balance solar development with hunting and fishing opportunity, the BLM must have a strong plan in place to minimize and compensate for the unavoidable impacts of development on fish and wildlife habitats, and the funding to carry out such projects. A much-needed bill, the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, currently pending in the U.S. Senate, would provide a critical funding stream by linking revenues from renewable energy projects on public lands to address habitat impacts.
Solar energy zones are a new paradigm in public land management, and the effects of their designation will be permanent and far reaching. In identifying and guiding development to solar zones, the BLM must identify and set aside public lands that are not available for any solar energy development. This approach will ensure balanced public land management as we as a nation pursue increased renewable energy development and other traditional uses of public lands.
Traditional oil and gas development has shown us what an ad hoc, disorganized approach can have on our public lands. We must learn from this experience and not repeat these mistakes in a rush toward renewable energy development. The BLM’s progress so far on its solar development plan is laudable, but these final, crucial changes must be made, and the plan must be finalized this year.
Solar energy, produced at home, is an essential part of our diverse energy portfolio and can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.  Renewable energy is American energy. Let’s do it right from the start.
Fosburgh is president & CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Schweiger is president & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and Wood is president & CEO of Trout Unlimited