USGS has completed a comprehensive assessment and inventory of potential mineral resources covering approximately 10 million acres of Federal and adjacent lands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. The assessment, conducted at the request of the Bureau of Land Management, ranked the mineral potential in select areas of these states along a gradient of no potential, low potential, moderate potential, and high potential.
The 10 million acres align with seven areas termed Sagebrush Focal Areas, identified by the Department of the Interior as important landscape blocks with high breeding population densities of sage-grouse and existing high quality sagebrush. The areas are all federally managed. The inclusion of private or other lands in the assessment has no implications regarding land values, management alternatives or recommendations for disposition. Native American lands were excluded from the study.
“The USGS mineral resource assessment contributes to a better understanding of the economic and environmental trade-offs in the decision-making process regarding the protection of greater sage-grouse and their habitat,” said Larry Meinert, USGS minerals resources program coordinator. “The evaluation of the mineral-resource potential can help inform decisions regarding withdrawal of Federal lands for protection of sagebrush habitat.”
The USGS assessment looked at a wide range of mineral deposit types and the commodities they contain, including locatable mineral types such as antimony, barite, bentonite, copper, gemstone, gold, gypsum, hectorite (lithium-rich clay), lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, opal, silver, sunstone, tungsten, uranium, zeolite, and zinc.
“In addition to the report, we created robust geospatial information system (GIS) datasets that can be used by land and resource managers at the BLM and others to plot the areas with mineral resource potential, mine locations, BLM lease information, previous USGS assessments and other geoscience data on a map to help understand the regional distribution of mineral resources in the sagebrush focal areas,” said Warren Day, USGS scientist and co-leader of the project.
The report did not assess coal, oil and gas, or geothermal resources.
In addition to the seven Sagebrush Focal Areas, two areas in Nevada, referred to in the report as the “Nevada additions,” were included in the USGS assessment to help inform the Department of the Interior’s analysis of alternatives. These areas were identified by the state of Nevada as substitute areas to be considered for withdrawal in lieu of other areas within the boundary of the Sagebrush Focal Areas that have been identified for potential withdrawal.
The percentage of each of the seven Sagebrush Focal Areas and the Nevada additions that have high or moderate mineral potential is as follows:
- Bear River Watershed Area: 17 percent
- North-Central Idaho Area: 7 percent
- North-Central Montana Area: 12 percent
- Nevada Alternative: 2 percent
- Shelden-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Area: 3 percent
- Southeast Oregon and North-Central Nevada Area: 17 percent
- Southern Idaho and Northern Nevada Area: 15 percent
- Southwestern and South-Central Wyoming Area: 66 percent
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