On the last business day of 2016 the BLM released the DEIS on its proposed 20-year withdrawal of approximately 10 million acres of “sagebrush focal areas” (SFAs) in six western states from mineral location and entry under the General Mining Law.  At the same time, the BLM temporarily “segregated” almost 400,000 more acres in Nevada that the State of Nevada has proposed as a substitute for nearly 500,000 acres within SFAs considered by the State to have high mineral potential or limited sage-grouse habitat.  As described in our article last year in the American Bar Association’s mining newsletter, the BLM started this process in September 2015 as a key part of the justification for not listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.  (That article also describes what the BLM’s proposal means for mining on these lands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, and the multiple lawsuits that have been filed challenging the federal government’s actions.)

The recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assessment of locatable mineral potential within the 10 million acres at issue provides important context for the DEIS.  Using currently available information, the USGS identified over one million acres as having moderate or high potential for locatable minerals, including bentonite, copper, gold, lithium, molybdenum, silver, tungsten, and zinc.  The USGS assessment also included almost 400,000 potential “substitute” acres in Nevada.

Using the USGS’s assessment, the BLM then took two aforementioned actions at the end of December.  81 Fed. Reg. 96,478 (Dec. 30, 2016).  It formally added the roughly 400,000 potential “substitute” acres in Nevada to the withdrawal proposal.  As a result, these additional lands, like the originally proposed 10 million acres, are segregated from location and entry under the General Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights, until September 24, 2017, unless the proposed withdrawal is denied, canceled, or approved before that date.

The BLM also released the DEIS for the proposed 20-year withdrawal.  The DEIS analyzed five alternatives:

  1. the originally proposed withdrawal;
  2. not moving forward with the original proposal (e., the no action alternative);
  3. the originally proposed withdrawal but excluding the almost 560,000 acres identified by the USGS as having high mineral potential;
  4. the originally proposed withdrawal but, as proposed by the State of Nevada, substituting the aforementioned lands in Nevada; and
  5. the originally proposed withdrawal but, as proposed by the State of Idaho, excluding approximately 540,000 acres in Idaho that contain high and moderate mineral potential (plus buffers).

Strangely, the DEIS did not identify any of these five alternatives as the BLM’s “preferred alternative.”  The DEIS is available here, and the BLM will hold a series of public meetings on the DEIS in the affected states in February 2017.  The deadline for submitting comments is March 28, 2017.

Stay tuned.  We suspect more activity is likely after January 20….