Environmentalists challenge BLM’s public lands plan

RENO — An environmental group says it plans to sue two federal agencies, claiming a public lands management plan adopted last year for more than 17,000 square miles in Nevada amounts to “ecological disaster” for nearly a dozen protected species.

In a filing sent this week to the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Biological Diversity gave 60-day notice of its intent to sue over the Ely Resource Management Plan unless measures are taken to remedy what it says are violations of the Endangered Species Act.

The resource plan governs grazing, mining, energy development and off-road vehicle use on public lands in the area that encompasses White Pine, Lincoln and portions of Nye counties. It also includes the sale of federally owned land for three proposed coal-fired power plants.

The center alleges that a “biological opinion” of the plan is flawed and fails to analyze the effects such activities will have on habitat and species.

“The Ely Resource Management Plan commits to ecological disaster,” said Amy Atwood, a lawyer and public lands energy director at the center. “It perpetuates off-road vehicle use in desert tortoise critical habitat and does nothing to promote conservation and recovery of the many rare species in the planning area.”

Besides the desert tortoise, listed as a threatened species, the center says the area contains habitat for seven species of threatened or endangered fish, an endangered bird, the southwestern willow flycatcher and a threatened wild orchid, the Ute ladies’ tresses.

Bob Williams, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno, said in a statement that his agency just received the center’s notice of intent and was reviewing it.

Under the Endangered Species Act, 60-day notice is required before a lawsuit can be filed.

Two of the three proposed coal-fired power plants within the area are near Ely and have been put on hold by their backers. The third, proposed in Southern Nevada near Mesquite, is seeking permits.

The center argues that by including the power plants in the plan the agencies are required to conduct a detailed analysis of their environmental consequences.

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