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Bulk Transmission Geological Resource Assessment Overview (16)

A bulk transmission developer should consider the proposed project’s impact on geological and paleontological resources, as well as on soils.

Paleontological Resources

Bulk transmission development impacts on paleontological resources can occur directly from 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.

Geological Resources

Bulk transmission 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.

Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development – Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Website.

In addition, surface disturbances, heavy equipment traffic, and changes to surface runoff patters can cause soil erosion and impact special soils (e.g., cryptobiotic soils). Impacts of soil erosion could include soil nutrient loss and reduced water quality in nearby surface water bodies. Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development – Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Website.

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 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 – Assess Impacts to Geological and Paleontological Resources

The developer must assess the potential impacts the project may have to geological and paleontological resources.

16.4 to 16.5 – 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 USC 470)

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:

BLM Instruction Memorandum on Collecting Paleontological Resources).

Consult the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act for detailed information.

Invertebrate Fossils and Fossil Plants (43 CFR 8365.1-5)

43 CFR 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 CFR 3610, 3621-22)

According to 43 CFR 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 USC 641)

As a type of government property, fossils are protected under 18 USC 641. For more information, see:

Bureau of Land Management Manual 8270 - General Procedural Guidance for Paleontological Resource Management.

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:

Paleontological Resource Use Permits Guidance and

Paleontological Resource Use Permit Application).

16.6 to 16.7 – 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 USC 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 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.

See Federal Cave Protection Act of 1988.

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (43 CFR 1610.7-2)

43 CFR 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.

16.8 – 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.