Joined by state and federal land managers as well as Newmont Mining, Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday announced the Sagebrush Ecosystem Conservation Program — a public-private partnership he said should become a national model.
Based on the conservation credit system established to help preserve the threatened sage grouse, it will allow Newmont to get conservation credits to offset damage resulting from its mining operations by doing conservation, restoration and reclamation work in other areas.
“This good-faith, public-private partnership represents a significant and meaningful achievement in the cause of sagebrush habitat and species protection in the western United States,” said Sandoval.
He said it will implement the Conservation Credit System that helped convince federal authorities not to list the grouse as endangered.
Outgoing Conservation and Natural Resources Director Leo Drozdoff said Newmont will build those conservation credits by enhancing and improving areas on some 1.5 million acres of Northern Nevada including not only the land Newmont owns but its public grazing lands. He said it represents a multi-million dollar commitment by the mining industry giant.
Drozdoff said the way the credit system is set up, the company will have to mitigate and enhance much more area than any acreage damaged by its operations.
Jeff White, Newmont’s Director of Renewable Resources, said the company plans to begin immediately generating those conservation credits to protect and improve not only sage grouse habitat areas but streams, meadows and other features in Nevada’s wilderness. He said it’s a win for the company as well because Newmont also has significant grazing allotments it uses to raise cattle on public lands as well as its own property in northern Nevada.
“We’ll generate conservation credits that could be used to offset the potential effects of mining,” he said.
Under the deal, Newmont will work with all the state and federal agencies involved to develop conservation projects that qualify the company for credits to later offset impacts from future mining operations in Nevada.
BLM State Director John Ruhs said that agency, which controls the majority of Nevada lands, is looking forward to applying the conservation methods generated by the agreement.
Sandoval said it took more than a year to work out the details of the program.
“These are tough conversations to have,” he said. “It will preserve the grouse while providing for our oldest industry to thrive.”
Assistant Secretary of the Interior Janice Schneider said the final result won’t only implement the conservation credit system but she thinks will become an example of how business and government can work together for the rest of the country.
“This is really a historic opportunity to promote conservation of the Sage Grouse habitat and species on 1.4 million acres of private and public land,” she said.
She said it will create a net gain for conservation efforts for such things as reducing invasive species like cheat grass and reducing the damage from wildland fires.
Will McDow of the Environmental Defense Fund also praised the agreement saying the credit system will “create a robust market for conservation and mitigation projects that will bring greater certainty to Nevada’s mining industry, ultimately allowing both wildlife and the economy to flourish.”
In addition to Conservation and Natural Resources, the deal was signed off by Newmont and officials from the Nevada Department of Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM and the governor’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Program.