On September 24, 2015, the federal Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) published a Notice of Proposed Withdrawal (“BLM notice”), proposing to withdraw from mineral location and entry federal lands identified as “sagebrush focal areas” in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. The BLM notice commences a two-year temporary segregation period, prohibiting location and entry of new mining claims on BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands in these sagebrush focal areas. If the BLM decides to withdraw the area at the end of the segregation period, the withdrawal will last up to 20 years, but could be extended in the future. The proposed withdrawal area covers approximately 10 million acres. The map below from the BLM shows the proposed withdrawal area, and an interactive map with more detail is available here.
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The BLM’s proposal aims to protect the greater sage-grouse and its habitat from adverse effects of mineral exploration and mining. The BLM issued the proposed withdrawal in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) announcement that the greater sage-grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. In support of its determination, the USFWS stated that “listing the greater sage-grouse is not warranted at this time” because its primary threats were reduced by federal, state, and local conservation efforts. This proposed withdrawal is one of those efforts. According to the BLM’s Fact Sheet, the USFWS has identified hardrock mining as a threat to the sage-grouse because mining can cause habitat fragmentation. During the two-year segregation period, the BLM will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to study the long-term impacts of the proposed withdrawal on sagebrush habitat. The BLM is accepting public comments until December 23, 2015.
In addition to prohibiting the location of new mining claims, existing mining claims within the proposed withdrawal area will be impacted. Prior to approving a plan of operations for such a claim during the two-year segregation, the BLM may require the preparation of a mineral examination report to determine whether the mining claim is valid (i.e., whether, at the time of the segregation, a valuable mineral deposit had been discovered that a reasonable person would make further efforts to develop into a mine, and whether such mine has a reasonable prospect of profitability). If this requirement is not satisfied, the BLM will move to terminate the mining claim. The mining claim validation process becomes mandatory if the proposed withdrawal is approved.