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Tracking Proposed National Monument Reductions in the West

Felicity Barringer and Geoff McGhee
Dec 11 2017

In mid August, President Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, sent a report to the White House recommending modifications to some of the 27 national monuments that he was ordered to place under review. On September 17, the Washington Post obtained a copy. In early December, the administration released further details that would sharply cut back several monuments, most particularly the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah. Below, we have updated our breakdown of the status of affected monuments in the American West.

View from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including the sun, moon, Mount Shasta and Pilot Rock, captured May 3, 2015, from the Pacific Crest Trail

View from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including the sun, moon, Mount Shasta and Pilot Rock, captured May 3, 2015, from the Pacific Crest Trail. The Interior Secretary has recommended thart the boundaries of Cascade-Siskiyou be modified to reduce impacts on private lands and timber production. Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

By Felicity Barringer and Geoff McGhee

Status updates follow below.

President Barack Obama’s designation of a 1.3 million acre national monument at Bears Ears in southeastern Utah a year ago was a breathtaking affirmation of the value of the landscape, its archaeological resources and its connection to Native American history, memories and beliefs.

Some Utahns and all their congressional delegation opposed the the monument as a federal land grab. In a breathtaking reversal of the actions of Obama and President Clinton, President Trump just eliminated the protected status from 85 percent of the Bears Ears Monument and about half of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was created in 1996.

The result of this sweeping back-and-forth is ending in the federal courts, which can now rule, for the first time, on the 111-year-old Antiquities Act — the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president and avid hunter who embodied conservation ideals.

The most notable element of the legal fight is the rise of a new player — the outdoor recreation industry, led by Patagonia — as a champion of conservation. It has joined five Native nations, land-conservation groups and archaeologists in one of the lawsuits arguing that nowhere in the Antiquities Act is a president granted the power to undo his predecessors’ monument decisions.

Two legal scholars, Todd Graziano and John Yoo, challenged that view in a formal paper and a newspaper op-ed, arguing “the authority to execute a discretionary power includes the authority to reverse it. No President (nor any Congress or Supreme Court) can permanently bind his or her successors in their exercise of the executive power.”

But, in the case of the Grand-Staircase Escalante Monument, the presidential designation was later confirmed in a law authorizing a 1998 land swap, praised five years ago by Michael O. Leavitt, former Utah governor and George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator. This swap could be a significant legal obstacle to the Trump administration’s efforts to overcome the legal challenges to the reduction in that monument. In the case of the Bears Ears Monument, the legal fight may focus on the difference between adjusting monument boundaries — which other presidents have done — and, essentially, blowing the monument up, leaving only two shards of the original protected area in place.

 

Boundary Modifications Recommended

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Map of Bears Ears

Map: Take a closer look at the area around Bears Ears National Monument »

Status
The President issued a proclamation “that the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument are hereby modified and reduced to those lands and interests in land owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map.” (Dec. 4, 2017)

Size
1.3 million acres

Size after proposed changes
201,876 acres in two smaller monuments (Dec. 4, 2017)

Designated
December 2016

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

In late December 2016, President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument, angering state officials and the county officials in San Juan County, in Utah’s southeast corner. The designation of the land, which includes rich and vulnerable examples of buildings and rock art from prehistoric Native American cultures, prompted many articles pro and con, including some from local residents, which we published in the ‘…& the West’ blog.

In March, the Native American members of the new commission advising the Bears Ears’ management wrote Mr. Zinke a letter reiterating the monument’s value to them. But the land is also important to those who might graze cattle, mine uranium or drill for oil and natural gas. Since 2013, the Interior Department has rebuffed attempts to lease more than 100,000 drillable acres — all of it in or near the monument. Mining of “yellowcake” uranium in the area continues.

Back to List

 

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon and California

Map of Cascades-Siskiyou

Status
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke formally recommended revising the boundaries of the monument without specifying which areas may be excluded. (Dec. 5, 2017)

“Boundary should be revised... to reduce impacts on private lands and remove [Oregon and California] Lands to allow sustained-yield timber production...” (Sept. 2017)

Size
85,000 acres (2000)
133,000 acres (2017)

Size after proposed changes
Unspecified. Report recommends “boundary should be revised.” (Sept. 17)

Designated
June 2000

Designated by
William Clinton

Enlarged
January 2017

Enlarged by
Barack Obama

 

The original monument was designed to protect an area of biological diversity. In 2011, scientists urged expansion.

This did not sit well with the timber industry; this year’s expansion sent it, and the Oregon counties that depend on timber revenues, to court. They claim that the prohibitions against timber harvest fly in the face of a 1937 law encouraging timber harvesting to provide revenue for the rural counties that cannot get tax revenue from federal lands. Ranchers are worried that grazing will be restricted; some have sold their grazing permits to environmental groups in anticipation of that outcome.

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Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

Map of Gold Butte

Status
Interior Secretary Zinke officially recommends downsizing the nearly 300,000-acre monument “to ensure that the monument reservation is limited to the smallest area compatible with the protection of the objects identified and protect historic water rights.” (Dec. 5, 2017)

Boundary “should be revised... to protect historic water rights” (Sept. 17)

Size
296,937 acres

Size after proposed changes
Unspecified. Report recommends “boundary should be revised.” (Sept. 17)

Designated
December 2016

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

The reasoning behind establishing this monument echoes that of several other southwestern monuments: protection of rock art, Native American resources, wildlife, and sweeping vistas. But Gold Butte’s land near Las Vegas has a special resonance — it was here in 2014 that the rancher Cliven Bundy’s defiance of federal rules and his refusal to pay fees for cattle grazing led to an armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management’s enforcement apparatus and the rancher, his family, and assorted armed militiamen. The Bundys had defied the federal government for years and his actions in Nevada, like his son’s in Oregon, won fierce support among antigovernment activists. The monument will still allow grazing — supervised and paid for — but among the local objections, a small town argues that the monument interferes with a local water district’s ability to get an assured supply. The Interior Department’s site for the monument says that visitors can “hike to rock art sites, drive … to the area’s namesake mining ghost town, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area’s peaks and canyons on horseback.”

Back to List

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Map of Grand Staircase-Escalante

Status
Presidential proclamation ordering that the monument “exclude from its designation and reservation approximately 861,974 acres of land that I find are no longer necessary for the proper care and management of the objects to be protected within the monument...” (Dec. 4, 2017)

Size
1.87 million acres

Size after proposed changes
Roughly 1 million acres (Dec. 2017)

Designated
1996

Designated by
William Clinton

 

Critics, mostly in Utah, had objected to the 1996 declaration of the monument for many reasons, including a strong assertion of state sovereignty over its lands. But the desire to open the Kaiparowits Plateau’s coal seams, containing an estimated 30 billion tons of mineable coal, is also a powerful motive. More than 40 years ago, a plan to build a 3,000-megawatt coal-fired electric generating plant on the plateau was abandoned by three utilities — two in southern California, one in Arizona. Getting the coal to market from the remote plateau has always been a stumbling block to commercial development.

...& the Best

More on this topic

BLM speeds ahead on Grand Staircase-Escalante High Country News  (Feb. 27, 2018)

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Policy Changes Recommended

Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico

Map of Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico

Status
Report urges administration “assess risks to operational readiness of nearby military installations” and “assess border safety risks associated with Potrillos Mountain Complex.” (Sept. 17)

Size
496,300 acres

Size after proposed changes
N/A

Designated
2014

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Back to List

 

Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico

Map of Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico

Status
Management Plan “should be revised”; Report references grazing as “a significant traditional use” that has been hampered by road closures. (Sept. 17)

Size
242,455 acres

Size after proposed changes
N/A

Designated
2013

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Back to List

 

Monuments Reviewed with No Changes Indicated

Basin and Range National Monument, Nevada

Map of Basin and Range

Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
704,000 acres

Designated
July 2015

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Long advocated by former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, the monument is roughly the size of Rhode Island, sits north of Las Vegas and takes in everything from ancient rock art to arid angular mountains to “City” a collection of abstract sculptures that the artist Michael Heizer took four decades to assemble; it is the size of the national mall in Washington. The anger of local opponents, who felt cut out of the decision and restricted in their future economic development, was voiced by Republican Senator Dean Heller before the monument’s designation. He told E&E News: “an inclusive approach where local parties affected by the designation have a seat at the table to voice their opinion.” He added,"These are the stakeholders most affected by any federal action on this matter.”

Back to List

Giant Sequoia National Monument, California

Panorama from an overlook on California State Route 180 near the southwestern edge of Giant Sequoia National Monument Famartin via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Giant Sequoia

Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
328,315 acres

Designated
April 2000

Designated by
William Clinton

 

The monument, which abuts Sequoia National Park, contains 33 groves of redwoods, the towering trees that got the attention of the world when settlers first saw them in the 19th century. The groves, with names like Indian Basin, Burro Creek, Starvation Complex and Upper Tule, are now surrounded by an undergrowth of smaller trees, millions of which have died thanks to drought and beetle infestations. Some members of the supervisors’ boards in Kern and Tulare Counties want the freedom to allow logging in these areas, though it is not clear who could find profit in the beetle-gnawed trees. And recently, the governing boards in those two counties came to different decisions on whether to send letters opposing the monument Local citizens also held rallies supporting it.

Back to List

Mojave Trails National Monument, California

Map of Mojave Trails

Status:
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
1.6 million acres

Size after proposed changes
No changes indicated. Rep. Paul Cook had recommended a 500,000-acre reduction.

Designated
2016

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Discussions about the future of this monument almost always include the word “Cadiz,” for two reasons. First, it is the name given to a spectacular group of sand dunes at the at the heart of the monument, which surrounds historic Route 66. Second, it is the name of a company, Cadiz Inc., that has proposed a water pumping, storage and delivery project near the dunes. The project envisions a 43-mile-long pipeline from a groundwater pumping station to the Colorado River aqueduct. From there, the water could flow to customers in southern California. The Cadiz project was supported in March by the local Republican congressman, Paul Cook. In June, he supported cutting 500,000 acres surrounding the pipeline route from the monument.

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Papahanaumokuakea National Monument, Hawaii

Map of Papahanaumokuakea National Monument

Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
89.5 million acres (2006);
372 million acres (2016)

Designated
2006

Designated by
George W. Bush

Enlarged
2016

Enlarged by
Barack Obama

 

Back to List

 

 

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Responding to Tracking Proposed National Monument Reductions in the West

Those interested in reading more about Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument and
how the BLM isn’t waiting for the courts to rule on monument boundaries to
start planning should visit:
https://www.hcn.org/articles/blm-speeds-ahead-on-grand-staircase-escalante-plans

High Country News has covered the many aspects of these monument reductions.

See http://hcn.org/topics/monuments for our most recent coverage

3/7/2018, 10:18am

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Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Maya Burke, Kate Selig, Francisco L. Nodarse, Devon Burger, and Madison Pobis

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A 37-Year-Old Public Trust Doctrine to Preserve Inland Lakes just got a new look from the Nevada Supreme Court. In the precedent-setting 1983 Mono Lake case, the California Supreme Court ruled that the public trust interest in the water, fish and wildlife of the lake meant diversion of the lake’s tributaries must be controlled. Nevada’s Supreme Court just took a different tack, saying the state could not reshuffle existing rights to the Walker River to protect the receding Walker Lake. Ninth Circuit federal appeals judges had send sent the case to the Nevada court; it’s now headed back to federal court. Las Vegas Sun Nevada Independent

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Establishing a New Indigenous Wildfire Task Force is the goal of a California State Senate candidate, Jackie Fielder. As “fire season” becomes increasingly intense, the need for effective fire management practices increases, and Indigenous groups’ knowledge becomes a beacon for forest managers.. Fielder’s plan is based on the Karuk Climate Adaptation Plan, which shows how controlled burns help prevent destructive wildfires. SF Weekly

Recent Fires Destroyed Much of Washington State’s Crucial Sage Grouse Habitat An expert on the birds said that the state’s population of less than 1,000 grouse may have been cut in half as fires burned more than 600,000 acres of forest and sagebrush rangeland this year. Overall, scientists have issued a report showing that grouse populations in nine states have declined 44 percent in five years. Mongabay

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Microsoft Has Launched the Second Phase of an Underwater Data Center Experiment , extending work done off the West Coast in 2015 to explore the feasibility of submarine computing. Their Natick Project intended to explore underwater data centers’ potential economic and environmental advantages relative to those on dry land. The findings: a sealed container on the ocean floor could improve overall reliability, given that oxygen and humidity corrode terrestrial centers as they do other modern infrastructure. The team also hopes that offshore data centers could support faster information retrieval over interconnected networks. CMSWire

A “Language Keepers” Podcast Illuminates the Struggle to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive in California. Two centuries ago, as many as 90 languages and 300 dialects were spoken in California. Today only half this number remain. This series explores the current state of four Indigenous languages that are among the most threatened in the world: Tolowa Dee-ni’, Karuk, Wukchumni, and Kawaiisu. It features stories of families and communities across California working to revitalize their Native languages and cultures. Emergence Magazine

Articles Worth Reading: September 15, 2020

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For a Second Year, a Landmark Plastic Recycling Measure Fails to gain sufficient support in the California legislature. The bill would have made it a state goal to reduce waste from single-use products by 75 percent, and required that single-use products be recyclable or compostable. The final 37-18 vote at the last minutes of the session fell three votes short of the tally it needed. KQED

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Shifting the Balance of Power Between Preserving Birds and Developing Energy. A 1.5-million-acre oil-and-gas development proposed in Wyoming is in the middle of a superhighway for migrating birds, and a court’s insistence on retaining federal penalties for accidental bird deaths from power lines and wind turbines. A potential go-ahead from the Interior Department could be coming soon on the project after six years of federal environmental reviews. The decision, which quoted the Harper Lee novel, saying “it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird,” could dictate how companies operate in Wyoming for the next decade and what happens when they kill birds. E&E Daily

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Articles Worth Reading: August 17, 2020

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California Heat Sets Records, Creates Rolling Blackouts As Fires Spawn Firenados. The combination of intense heat, dry vegetation and lightning storms has the state struggling on several fronts. The unusual and extreme phenomenon of a fire-generated tornado occurred on August 15 in the Lake Tahoe area as a new fire quickly spun out of control. A few days earlier, the Lake Fire outside Los Angeles spawned its own firenado. Rolling blackouts hit the state while in Death Valley, the temperature hit a record 130 degrees. Los Angeles Times National Public Radio Desert Sun

Arizona’s Drought Intensified as Seasonal Monsoons Again Turn Into “Nonsoons.” With temperatures in Phoenix exceeding 110 degrees for days on end and the three-month period ending in June was the second hottest and third driest in 125 years. Populous Maricopa County, including Phoenix and Scottsdale, is in a severe drought. The impact on the water levels at Lake Mead, which is now at 40 percent of capacity, will mean that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will receive less water from the Colorado River. Arizona Water News Arizona Republic

Some Oregon Forest Land Would Be Lost as Spotted Owl Habitat if a federal Fish and Wildlife Service proposal becomes final. The proposal would take 204,653 acres, or 2 percent of the total of 9.6 Million Acres, from the area of ancient forests designated as critical habitat and set aside as habitat for the endangered owl. Oregon Public Broadcasting

With Ice Disappearing, Pacific Walruses Are Moving Sooner and Sooner to Beaches of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. They just gathered at Point Lay at the end of July, earlier than ever before. The walruses had evolved to use floating ice as platforms for foraging and rearing their young. But for the past 13 years, after the first year of a record-low extent of sea ice, they have been moving to the Point Lay site by the tens of thousands every summer. Arctic Today

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Articles Worth Reading: August 3, 2020

In Reversal, Army Corps Determines Alaska’s Pebble Mine Poses No Serious Threat to the region’s valuable sockeye salmon population. The Corps’ ruling overturned a 2014 finding by the Obama Administration. The proposed mile-square mine, 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, is poised to unearth one of the richest deposits of copper, gold and other valuable metals in the world. It pits two of the state’s most important industries, mining and fishing, against each other. Washington Post The New York Times

Land Subsidence Means Chunks of California’s Coast Are Vanishing, a new ASU study reveals. The sinking hotspots are found in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco where the population of millions will be at greater flood risk. “We have ushered in a new era of coastal mapping at greater than 1,000 fold higher detail and resolution than ever before,” said Manoochehr Shirzaei, a co-author of the study. “The unprecedented detail and sub-millimeter accuracy resolved in our vertical land motion dataset can transform the understanding of natural and anthropogenic changes….” Earth.com

Pairing Landowners and Land Management Agencies and Nonprofits has allowed Montana’s Blackfoot Challenge to develop a more resilient landscape and rural community. Its programs include prescribed burns, predator deterrence, and drought-sharing agreements. Bitterroot

California Farmworkers Are Paying High Price as COVID-19 Surges, worrying that as the pandemic surges in agricultural hubs, it could catch and kill them. Or it could kill their jobs. Protections for farmworkers, like masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing, need to be made mandatory, advocates said, and longstanding conditions that farmworkers have endured, such as crowded buses to and from work, or overcrowded housing, need to be addressed. InsideClimate News

Decline in Western Bumblebee Populations Gets More Dramatic, a federal review reveals. In the last two decades, the bee population has dropped by as much as 93% in the last two decades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now deciding whether the insects need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bees are important pollinators and many factors contribute to their decline: pesticides, habitat fragmentation, a warming climate, pathogens and agricultural chemicals. E&E News

The Fight for Clean Water in California’s Central Valley Is a Slog, as clean water is unavailable for hundreds of thousands of Californians in the state’s agricultural heartland. Tooleville, an unincorporated community of 80 homes at the southern end of the Central Valley, is trying to consolidate with a larger and better-resourced neighboring community.. “It’s very, very, very hard,” Yolanda Cuevas said of worries about her children and grandchildren’s exposure to contaminated water. Yale Environment 360

Murder Hornets: What do We Need to Worry About? The arrival of the Asian Giant Hornet in the western U.S. has researchers anxiously looking for ways to control the insect with the terrifying sting, which can pierce the protective clothing of even professional beekeepers. How many are there and where could they spread? A podcast on those questions by the WGA. Western Governors Association NPR

Santa Fe’s Indian Market Goes Virtual This Month, as more than 400 artists must find a new way to sell their work. On Saturday, Aug.1, the first Virtual Santa Fe Indian Market opened for business for the rest of the month. Lovers of Native art can shop for jewelry, dolls, textiles, pottery, clothing, baskets and much more at the SWAIA website, though August 31. Native News Online

Articles Worth Reading: July 21, 2020

Government Throws Curveball at Klamath Dam Removal Efforts. The long-range plan to take down four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, which flows between Oregon and California, seemed to be headed for conclusion. Then federal regulators refused to let the dams’ owner, PacifiCorp, sever its connections to the project, which it now owns. But energy regulators ruled that while the company can transfer its license, it must remain a co-licensee, potentially leaving it with unexpected liabilities beyond those it has already assumed. The decision throws the idea of recovering Klamath salmon populations further in doubt. Associated Press

Dramatic Increase Coming in California Weather Extremes as climate warming intensifies the cyclical oscillation of air systems, a phenomenon that influences everything from cyclones in the Indian Ocean to drought in the southwest. This finding from a University of California, Davis researcher suggests that the West will experience greater month-to-month fluctuations in extremely dry and wet weather. UC Davis

A Rabbit Plague Is Hitting the Southwest, bringing a mortality rate of up to 70 percent to populations of jackrabbits, hares and related species, including the rare pika. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease causes fevers, bloody noses and lethargy in rabbits, hares and other similar species, who often die of internal bleeding or liver failure. It came from China and Europe and infected domestic rabbits two years ago, but is now spreading in the wild. “The virus is in a pretty vast area, and we don’t have any tools to use to mitigate the spread or stop it once it’s out in free-ranging populations,” said a U.S. Geological Survey expert. The Guardian

Effort to Block the California-Quebec Climate Deal Fails, as a federal court finds the pact on greenhouse-gas emissions doesn’t usurp federal foreign-policy prerogatives. The cap-and-trade program at the heart of California’s fight against climate change could have been weakened if the Trump administration challenge had been upheld. Bloomberg

In Utah, a Debate Simmers Over Estonian Radioactive Waste, which could be reprocessed at a mill next door to the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, the only operational uranium mill in the United States. State officials must approve an importation license. Tribal officials fear this waste transfer could become the first of many to the White Mesa Mill in San Juan County, in southeastern Utah. The tribe says the mill was designed for a different function and is 20 years past its original planned lifespan. Reuters

Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bears Won’t Lose Federal Protections, thanks to ruling in a Montana state court that has been upheld by federal appeals judges. A 2017 federal decision stripping the bears of threatened status under the endangered species act could have paved the way for state-planned hunts Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Birds, Like Buildings, Can Have Confederate Names. One is the McCown’s longspur, a sparrow-like bird that summers in the Great Plains and winters in the southwest. John Porter McCown, its namesake, helped forcibly relocate Native Americans in the 1840s and served as a Confederate general during the Civil War. “Naming and language have power. The way that you use language tells people whether they belong or not,” said Earyn McGee, a University of Arizona doctoral candidate and organizer an online campaign to increase visibility of Black birders. The American Ornithological Society had balked at a name change; it is now rethinking that decision. Undark

Why Is the West Running Out of Water? A crisp and succinct video history of the series of poor decisions that have left the region looking at a parched future. Some 40 million people now depend on the Colorado River, which will be increasingly unable to provide water to those that need it. Cheddar

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

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