The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Tuesday released its first-ever rapid ecoregional assessment (REA), which takes a broad look at the ecology of the Colorado Plateau.

REAs, which will be prepared in cooperation with other federal and state land management agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, “are aimed at sustaining the health and productivity of America’s public lands,” said Acting BLM Director Mike Pool.

BLM spokesman Mitch Snow said REAs are distinct from environmental impact statements (EIS). An REA is a “tool for people to use to look beyond the boundaries” of their project and can be used in updating their resource management plans. It provides a “broader overview to see how a project may be interrelating with a broader ecological community that surrounds them.” In contrast, an EIS is limited to a specific project.

He said he doesn’t believe REAs will have a “direct” impact on oil and natural gas activities on public lands, except for the requirement that REAs assess the potential climate change impact of important habitats.

The initial REA covers 32,387 square miles of land in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, which is administered by 16 BLM field offices. Additional REAs covering the Central Basin and Range, Mojave Basin and Range, Northwestern Plains, Middle Rockies, Sonoran Desert and the Seward Peninsula-Nulato Hills-Kotzebue Lowlands ecoregions will be released later in the year.

“With their specific focus on climate change and other related factors altering the landscape of the West, the REAs will help the BLM better focus its efforts to meet President Obama’s call to ‘act before it is too late,'” Pool said.

REAs can “help identify important habitats for fish, wildlife and species of concern. REAs also [will] help identify areas that are not ecologically intact or readily restorable; and where development activities, such as transmission lines, may be directed to minimize potential impacts. REAs…[will] gauge the potential of these habitats to be affected by four overarching environmental change agents: climate change, wildfires, invasive species and urban and energy development.”

According to Pool, the REAs will provide science-based information and tools for land managers and stakeholders to consider in subsequent resource planning and decision-making, such as resource management plans and environmental impact states. “The REAs themselves [will not] contain findings and recommendations, nor do they make management decisions or allocate resource uses.”

The REAs will be available at

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