Hydropower Geological Resource Assessment Overview (16)
Hydropower development impacts on paleontological resources can occur directly from the construction activities or indirectly from soil erosion and increased accessibility to fossil locations. Potential impacts include:
- Complete destruction of the resource if present in areas undergoing surface disturbance or excavation;
- Degradation or destruction of near- surface fossil resources on – or of-site caused by changes to topography, changes to hydrological patterns, and soil movement (e.g., removal, erosion, sedimentation); and
- Unauthorized removal of fossil resources or vandalism as a result of increased human access to previously inaccessible areas, if significant paleontological resources are present. Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development – Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Website.
Hydropower development could increase the possibility of geological hazards (earthquakes, landslides) by:
- Excavating and blasting activities;
- Increasing slopes during site grading and construction of access roads;
- Altering natural drainage patterns (which could also accelerate erosion and create slope instability); and
- Toe-cutting bases of slopes.
Geological Resource Assessment Overview Process
16.1 to 16.2 – Is the Project on Federal Land?
A developer may need to obtain approval from the United States Department of Agriculture or the United States Department of Interior for projects that are development on federal land that may impact, geological or paleontological resources or disturb soils.
The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) protects and geological resources on federal land. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Interior (National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Fish and Wildlife Service) are charged with implementing the PRPA.
When on private land, developers may impact geology, soils, and paleontological resources without a permit. When on state land, the developer may need to abide by certain rules and restrictions, typically contemplated as part of a cultural resource assessment. If not on federal land, the developer may continue with the project.
16.3 to 16.4 – Will the Project Be Licensed or Exempted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission?
Pursuant to the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has exclusive authority to license most nonfederal hydropower projects located on navigable waters or federal lands, or connected to the interstate electric grid. If the project is licensed by FERC, the project will be subject to conditions and/or recommendations submitted to FERC by the relevant federal land management agencies as part of the licensing process. If a FERC licensed project is located within a federal reservation such as a National Forest or tribal land, the relevant federal land management agency will submit conditions as required by federal law for protection and use of the reservation the Federal Power Act Section 4(e) (FPA). Where the conditions do not exceed the scope of FPA section 4(e) FERC must incorporate submitted conditions into the license. In addition, state and federal land management agencies may adopt and file with FERC comprehensive plans for natural resource management against which FERC must check licenses for consistency (FPA section 10(a)). However, there is no substantive consistency requirement and, as such, 10(a) conditions are often referred to as recommendations. The developer should review the license conditions procedures for all relevant land management agencies.
Agency Conditions and Recommendations
- Bureau of Indian Affairs
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) typically issues FPA section 4(e) conditions or 10(a) recommendations, as appropriate, where a project is located on tribal lands, a tribe has an interest in the area where the project is located, or a project may interfere with the purpose of a reservation. The BIA may also participate by engaging with fish and wildlife agencies responsible for developing section 10(j) recommendations. For more information, see:
- Bureau of Land Management
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) typically issues FPA section 4(e) conditions or 10(a) recommendations, as appropriate, where projects are located on BLM managed lands or may adversely affect resources located within BLM managed lands.
- Bureau of Reclamation
- The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) typically issues FPA section 4(e) conditions or 10(a) recommendations, as appropriate, for projects that are located on or may otherwise affect a BOR facility. For more information, see:
- National Park Service
- The National Park Service (NPS) typically issues FPA section 4(e) conditions or 10(a) recommendations, as appropriate, for projects that are located on federally-reserved NPS lands, projects that may affect NPS-managed lands, and projects that may affect recreational interests in non-NPS lands. For more information, see:
- United States Forest Service
- The United States Forest Service (USFS) typically issues FPA section 4(e) conditions or 10(a) recommendations, as appropriate, where projects are located on National Forest Service lands or may adversely affect National Forest System resources. For more information, see:
16.5 – Assess Impacts to Geological and Paleontological Resources
The developer must assess the potential impacts the project may have to geological and paleontological resources.
16.6 to 16.7 – Are There Paleontological Resources on the Site?
If there are paleontological resources on site, then a permit or other approval may be required.
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 470aaa et al.)
The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) states that paleontological resources may not be collected from federal land without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. However, the PRPA contains an exception that allows casual collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate and plant fossils from federal land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for non-commercial use without a permit. ‘Casual Collecting’ under PRPA includes surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools resulting in only negligible disturbance to the Earth’s surface and other resources. The PRPA maintains a prohibition on the sale of common invertebrate and plant fossils. A Paleontological Resources Use Permit is required if the activities cause a disturbance to the surface that could cause impacts on other natural or cultural resources.
In addition, the PRPA does not change the BLM’s requirement for issuance of a Paleontological Resources Use Permit for the collection of vertebrate and other invertebrate and plant paleontological resources that are of paleontological interest to qualified researchers. For more information, see:
Consult the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act for detailed information.
Invertebrate Fossils and Fossil Plants (43 C.F.R. § 8365.1-5)
43 C.F.R. §§ 8365.1-5 states that it is permissible to collect from public lands reasonable amounts of "nonrenewable resources such as rock and mineral specimens, common invertebrate and common plant fossils, and semiprecious gemstones" for noncommercial purposes.
Petrified Wood (43 C.F.R. §§ 3610, 3621-22)
According to 43 C.F.R. § 3622, persons may collect limited quantities of petrified wood for noncommercial purposes under terms and conditions consistent with the preservation of significant deposits as a public recreational resource. No application or permit is required unless the specimen weighs over 250 pounds.
Unauthorized Collection of Fossils (18 U.S.C. § 641)
As a type of government property, fossils are protected under 18 U.S.C. § 641. For more information, see:
Bureau of Land Management Paleontological Resource Use Permit
A paleontologist must have a valid paleontological resource use permit before collecting or disturbing fossil resources on BLM-administered lands. Casual collecting (also called hobby collecting) of certain common invertebrate and plant fossils on BLM-administered lands is allowable without a permit.
According to BLM policy handbook 8270-1 (chapter IV), the applicant (developer) must have received formal education and professional instruction in a field of paleontology equivalent to a graduate degree; and
- must demonstrate past experience in collecting, analyzing, and reporting paleontological data, similar to the type and scope of work proposed in the application;
- must demonstrate past experience in planning, equipping, staffing, organizing, and supervising crews performing work that is proposed in the application;
- must demonstrate experience in carrying out paleontological projects to completion as evidenced by theses, research reports, scientific papers and similar documents; and
- must provide a valid and current repository agreement with a Federally approved museum repository.
For more information, see:
16.8 to 16.9 – Will There Be Impacts to Significant Geological Resources?
If the project will result in impacts to significant geological resources, then additional permits or approvals may be required.
Federal Cave Resources Protection Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 4301 – 4309)
The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act works to protect, secure, and preserve significant caves on federal lands. A "cave" is defined by the act as "any naturally occurring void, cavity, recess, or system of interconnected passages which occurs beneath the surface of the earth or within a cliff or ledge...and which is large enough to permit an individual to enter, whether or not the entrance is naturally formed or manmade."
The Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of the Interior ("secretary") is authorized to issue permits for the collection and removal of cave resources under terms and conditions developed by the secretary.
- Any permit issued must include information concerning the time, scope, location, and specific purpose of the proposed collection, removal, or activity, and the manner in which it will be performed; and
- The secretary may issue a permit only if he determines that the proposed collection or removal activities are consistent with the purposes of this act.
Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (43 C.F.R. § 1610.7-2)
43 C.F.R. § 1610.7-2 sets out the rules for designating areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC). Areas with potential for ACEC designation and protection management must be identified and considered throughout the resource management planning process.
16.10 – Continue with Project
If there will be no impacts to significant geological resources or if the developer has satisfied the requirements of the applicable regulations, the developer may continue with project.
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- Bureau of Land Management - Instruction Memorandum on Collecting Paleontological Resources
- Bureau of Land Management - Manual 8270, General Procedural Guidance for Paleontological Resource Management
- Bureau of Land Management - Paleontological Resource Use Permit Application
- Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development – Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Website