Ruby CONS COMMENTS January 4, 2010 - The Cloud Foundation

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1

January 4, 2010


Ms. Kimberly D. Bose

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First St. NE

Washington, DC 20426


RE: Ruby Pipeline Docket CP09
-
54
-
000
, PF08
-
9
-
000



Dear Ms.

Bose,


Western Watersheds Project is submitting additional comments on the Ruby
Pipeline
Project, Docket CP09
-
54
-
000
, and/or PF08
-
9
-
000
.


We ask that you accept these comments on the Ruby Pipeline DEIS and various
conservation and mitigation actions. We have tried to keep up with the dozens of
piecemeal Ruby filings on the FERC site t
hat have continued into late December. Ruby
documents posted have frequently had Attachments, Tables, Maps, or the whole body of
the document missing. The public has been informed of missing information through
brief Ruby cover letters that accompany the f
ilings. In some instances, missing portions
were added later to documents previously posted. This has caused a fog of confusion for
the public trying to understand the full scope and scale of the adverse effects of this
massive new pipeline project. It mak
es understanding and assimilating the full effects of
the project very difficult.


From the info that we have accessed since the DEIS: The evidence is overwhelmingly
that there are gaping data holes, insufficient analysis of data using current ecological a
nd
conservation science related to sagebrush ecosystems, analysis fraught with omissions or
misleading statements, and a continued failure to adequately evaluate a suitable range of
alternatives.


We are submitting these comments now


in the hopes that F
ERC and BLM will
immediately act to uphold NEPA, FLPMA, the ESA, as well as sound planning for our
Nation’s infrastructure by requiring Ruby to prepare a supplemental EIS.


FERC and other agencies have allowed Ruby to make unsubstantiated claims about man
y
environmental aspects of this project. FERC approved Ruby’s Certificate of Necessity
and other steps in this process without critically examining the quality and sufficiency of
the biological, cultural, recreational reporting and without requiring a crit
ical examination
of common
-
sense Alternative Routing.


BIOLOGICAL AND OTHER RELATED CONCERNS


“We recommend a

paradigm shift from local to landscape conservation and discuss the implications of this

change”.

USGS Naugle et al. 2009


2


“Conservation of the sp
ecies

will initially require

a recognition of the intrinsic value of sagebrush
-
dominated
landscapes
,

followed by the development of a comprehensive approach to sagebrush habitat
conservation …”.
USGS Johnson et al. 2009



The immediate need is for

plannin
g tools that overlay the best remaining areas for sage
-
grouse with the extent of

current and anticipated development. …

Multiple stressors including energy development must

be managed collectively to maintain sage
-
grouse populations over time in priority


landscapes)”.
USGS Naugle et al. 2009



The Ruby Conservation Plan is described as a collaborative effort. WWP specifically
requested to participate in this process and its meetings. WWP was denied the
opportunity to participate, or to even attend the me
etings and observe, but be silent.


The collaboration was limited to a closed door agency
-
industry process with what
appears to be largely pre
-
ordained outcome from which the public was excluded. Many
elements of the proposed and limited mitigation in the

DEIS remain little changed in
Ruby’s December 2009 piecemeal Filings related to conservation and mitigation. When
dealing with very powerful industries on western public lands issues, exclusion of the
public increases the likelihood of inadequate compromi
ses related to mitigation.



The Conservation Plan is described as a voluntary effort. This maximizes uncertainty of
its effectiveness in limiting severe adverse short, mid and long
-
term effects of Ruby.
There is no assurance that voluntary measures will

be fully implemented, or that they will
be sufficient and effective. This loose, uncertain, voluntary Adaptive Plan maximizes
uncertainty in understanding and addressing all of the direct, indirect and cumulative
effects of the Ruby Project. The “avoidanc
e” is limited, and full of promises that can be
changed at any point. There are no specific sideboards or thresholds established to trigger
any change or to require mandatory action.


Ruby claims it will provide a conservation benefit beyond the claimed mi
tigation of
avoidance. This is not explained. What is the conservation benefit, and how specifically
will it be achieved?


The use of the phrase “mitigation by avoidance” seems out of place here. Ruby has not
been required by FERC and BLM to adequately an
alyze a range of alternative routes that
would minimize and avoid many of the serious impacts that plague the Proposed,
Sheldon, segments of the Black Rock and other routes through critically important
habitats in NW Nevada. Alternative routes, such as the

I
-
80 area and portions the
Westwide Corridor and Jungo
-
Tuscarora Route were cast aside. Even the Black Rock
route was not adequately examined (roads for construction access were not revealed by
Ruby). The Mile
-
by
-
Mile analysis shows portions of this route

too may seriously impact

3

the declining sage
-
grouse population in the region, including have adverse effects on the
viability of the small number of grouse that remain in this area.


The Proposed Route cuts right through a known core area in Wyoming, and
numerous
sage
-
grouse core areas in Nevada including the Globally Significant block of sagebrush
in NW Nevada. In Utah, where grouse and pygmy rabbit habitats and populations are
severely reduced over nearly all the state, Ruby plows right through critical
habitats. In
fact, Ruby intrudes on the largest block of remaining contiguous pygmy rabbit habitat
and critical core sage
-
grouse habitat in Utah contiguous with Wyoming.



Necessary baseline studies to understand the full Footprint of the project remain
lacking.
Ruby’s mitigation ignores the most basic and common sense measures to protect
migratory birds and their nests, by seeking to blast the pipeline through sensitive habitats
non
-
stop throughout the nesting period.


Conservation Science and Ecological

Principles Ignored


The new Monograph Chapters compiled by USGS in
Ecology and Conservation of
Greater Sage
-

Grouse: A Landscape Species and its Habitats
describ
e
the importance of landscape
analyses to understand and conserve sage
-
grouse, a landscape spe
cies. WWP comments
on the Ruby DEIS, and stacks of comments we have submitted to the Nevada BLM
offices over the past decade also emphasize this need. Similar analysis is needed to fulfill
NEPA’s “hard look” requirement. It is needed to determine if the ba
ttery of adverse
impacts of an industry’s actions are not able to be appropriately mitigated. It is needed to
develop effective mitigation for construction and other actions as they are being carried
out.


Project Magnitude


This is the largest project of

its type across significant public lands in the American West
in recent memory. Where have other projects of this magnitude been built across large
areas of public lands in recent years? Where have such projects been built across
nationally and
Globally S
ignificant

areas for species conservation like the large block of
unique sagebrush habitats of Summit Lake
-
Sheldon?


Mitigation Bar Appears to Have Been Lowered in the Region


We have observed that Federal Agencies in Nevada and other western states in
recent
years have settled for minimal mitigation for mining and other projects that involve
powerful interests. For example, mine “mitigation” for billion dollar gold mines that will
permanently drop water tables (including in the area of Ruby impact) has
involved such
things as harmful fences for the public lands allotments where mine
-
controlled cattle
graze, rather than actions to reduce or eliminate livestock disturbance to restore habitats
using passive restoration. We fear mitigation shortcomings may b
e due to the political
muscle of mining, energy and other large entities in this region.


4


Has the bar been lowered on what federal agencies accept as mitigation, and how they
gauge and evaluate whether mitigation is reasonable, effective, or adequate for
the values
lost, destroyed or impaired? How does mitigation rigor in this region compare to a
comparable effort in California?


Federal agencies in recent years have a poor track record of requiring adequate mitigation
for energy projects that is in synch

with current best available conservation science for a
species or ecosystem. Wyoming gas and oil energy development on BLM lands
illustrates this. In Wyoming, agencies time after time failed to require strong or sufficient
protective measures for sage
-
gr
ouse and sagebrush habitats when faced with powerful
gas and oil energy developers. See Connelly et al. 2004, Naugle et al. 2009. Wells and
pipeline infrastructure were permitted by BLM in areas of critical sagebrush habitats
where biologists knew beforeh
and that the outcome would be sharp and rapid population
declines for the sage
-
grouse and other sagebrush species. The Holloran, Naugle and other
sage
-
grouse studies that tracked these losses only served to document what anyone with a
sense of the outdoors

or basic biology knew in advance: Sage
-
grouse, a landscape
species, would not be able to tolerate infrastructure and other disturbances associated
with energy development in important sagebrush habitats. The recent USGS (Knick and
Connelly 2009) Chapters

describe the unfolding collapse of the sage
-
grouse populations
under BLM
-
sanctioned energy mitigation in Wyoming.


In Wyoming, the energy companies that produce the gas that would travel through the
Ruby El Paso line were allowed by BLM to gain access to
many of the state’s most
sensitive wildlife areas. Energy titans were permitted to: 1) develop sensitive habitats


such as lek complexes and wintering habitats, and in fact were permitted to pepper the
most sensitive habitats with development; 2) disturb
sensitive habitat areas with minimal
temporal or spatial avoidance for construction required; 3) Agencies accepted funds that
were to go to mitigate impacts, but the mitigation has not resulted in positive trends for
sagebrush species.


The tragic story
of destruction of critical sage
-
grouse habitats on public lands in much of
Wyoming and portions of Utah and Montana by energy companies in the past decade is
now well
-
documented. See Naugle et al. 2009. This same scenario appears to
unfortunately be on the

verge of being repeated with Ruby, and with renewable energy
and transmission corridors in the remaining portions of the sage
-
grouse range


especially
Nevada, Oregon and southern Idaho. In the sagebrush landscapes targeted by Ruby, there
are now also new

transmission lines (SWIP, Transcanada) and major mountain top wind
farms, geothermal projects and much other development and infrastructure being planned
or underway. Plus mining in the region is likely to increase even more


including mining
for rare mi
nerals used in renewable energy devices that require minerals now being
targeted for extraction in this region.


Chapters in the recent USGS Sage
-
grouse Monograph describe the sage
-
grouse habitat
and population declines that are playing out across the
species range, and the recent well
-
documented rapid declines with energy and infrastructure development. Across the

5

sagebrush biome, the chronic disturbance of livestock grazing and its supporting harmful
infrastructure of fences, wells and pipelines conti
nue to degrade and intrude on nearly all
sage
-
grouse habitats, promoting weeds, removing nesting cover and fundamentally
altering the composition, function and structure of sagebrush communities (Fleischner
1994, Connelly et al. 2004). WWP discusses this e
xtensively in Ruby DEIS comments.


As each Wyoming gas well field, pipeline, electric line, improved road, or other
development was punched in


industry and BLM represented to the public that species
like sage
-
grouse and pygmy rabbit were receiving adequa
te protections.


The public can only interpret the inadequate Ruby DEIS, the piecemeal
conservation/mitigation filings, and resultant inadequate Ruby mitigation as
demonstrating that BLM, USFWS and state agencies are about to repeat the mistakes
made in W
yoming. Agencies still appear to be unable to stand up to powerful energy
interests. Agencies seem to have learned few lessons from the loss of sage
-
grouse
habitats and populations that have undergone development, new infrastructure,
construction disturban
ces that promote weed expansion, and habitat fragmentation that
increases predation.


No detailed conservation
-
based analysis has been conducted to establish a baseline of
landscape effects. This is needed to understand the magnitude of the biological and

other
losses that Ruby will cause


both from direct disturbance and as the sagebrush
ecosystem unravels as the impacts of roads, weeds, noise, human intrusion, fragmentation
play out. The short, mid, and long
-
term adverse effects of this massive new deve
lopment
on sagebrush species habitats, populations, and species viability must be rigorously
examined.


The December filings show inconsistent and piecemeal mitigation that varies greatly
even by state. The state agencies are not be unified and are not rel
ying on current
conservation science for sage
-
grouse. Ruby is promising funding for scattershot projects,
and inconsistent and minimal “avoidance” mitigation. Nevada, Oregon and Sheldon
appear to have been divided. Each entity sought to keep Ruby out of it
s domain. Sadly,
what has fallen through the cracks is the significance of the Globally Significant shared
landscape that will be fragmented, altered and destroyed by this new Corridor pioneered
by Ruby. Agencies have failed to speak with one voice for th
e landscape and shared
populations of sagebrush species.


Agencies have not been unified in telling Ruby to move its pipeline to a less damaging
route and stay out of NW Nevada and Sheldon altogether
-

rather than taking the most
roundabout way imaginable

to get gas to the population centers of CA and NV. This has
resulted in the Mile by Mile analysis with confusing bar graphs showing there is no good
or acceptable route in northwestern Nevada and SE Oregon. It has also served to confuse
the public, which
should be able to look to agencies as a sound conservation voice.
FERC and BLM have failed to say that the Proposed Route and intrusions into Sheldon in
this area are not able to be mitigated. The area is undeveloped, Globally Significant, and
unique.


6


Ru
by Ignores Baseline Data Collection and Mitigation for Many Species


Ruby failed to survey for many rare, sensitive and declining animal and plant species in
the Footprint of its route. For the few species that were inventoried, studies were
inadequate and

analyses constricted to a much smaller area of the landscape than current
science shows the impacts will be felt. Thus, there is no way that mitigation for
loggerhead shrike, sage sparrow, rare fish, rare shorebirds on playas, springsnails, or
other decli
ning native biota can be considered adequate. We are concerned that the
limited and piecemeal “avoidance” under the Conservation Agreement will differentially
impact other species that agencies have apparently placed in the “expendable” category


such as
salt desert shrub, or mixed Wyoming big sagebrush salt desert shrub species.


Agencies failed to require adequate baseline studies, and there is no mitigation for many
conservation species of concerns. We discuss throughout the comments below.


Constricte
d Footprint Analysis Thwarts Understanding of Scale and Scope of
Mitigation That Is Necessary


Ruby failed to identify and analyze a broad range of significant impacts over the entire
area of its Footprint. With every new piecemeal Ruby filing, we become a
ware of more
impacts and a larger area of Ruby Footprint that are not sufficiently analyzed or
effectively mitigated. For example, from a late December filing, we became aware that
the project may be accompanied by extensive helicopter disturbance througho
ut sensitive
periods for native wildlife. Extensive helicopter use may startle and displace wildlife in
many areas, may adversely affect wintering wildlife, and may also affect the very
important bighorn sheep populations in the Footprint of Ruby. See for
example Bighorn
Sheep habitat mapping, August 10, 2009 Sheldon Rout Comparison filing Map Figure 7.


BLM, FWS and FERC Cannot Accept Ruby’s Plans and Mitigation As Sufficient or
Scientifically Sound in 2010


BLM’s interpreting guidance requires that it u
se best available science and supporting
studies conducted in accordance with sound and

objective scientific practices. Much of the best available science on sage
-
grouse was
compiled in the WAFWA 2004 Sage
-
Grouse Conservation Assessment (Connelly et al.
20
04). This described the importance of understanding and addressing sage
-
grouse needs
on a landscape level. The mid
-
decade work by Holloran, Naugle and others on the
impacts of energy infrastructure development and intrusions into sage
-
grouse strongholds
wa
s readily available to Ruby. Scientific articles such as Weiss and Verts (1984), recent
Nevada and other studies, the USFWS Federal Register info on the pygmy rabbit,
summaries of habitat requirements and other info in the WWP pygmy rabbit petition
were re
adily available to Ruby. Abundant science on cheatgrass expansion and risk
especially in the arid lands traversed by Ruby, and info on the long recovery times for
sagebrush communities has been available for understanding the battery of threats to this
lan
dscape from Ruby.


7


WWP provided extensive scientific literature on the impacts of disturbance in promoting
weeds especially in the Great Basin portion of the sagebrush biome, very long recovery
times of sagebrush communities, tremendous impacts of recent

fires on sagebrush
landscapes along the path of Ruby, the imperilment of sagebrush species, and the lack of
adequate baseline inventories for all native biota across the path of Ruby. We also
provided ICBEMP info, Ecoregional Analyses. This should have be
en used to guide
alternatives development, analysis of impacts, develop sound mitigation, to move the
Pipe Route out of a unique and unmitigatable route in Northwestern Nevada, and alter
several other segments as well.


We are now submitting info from t
he recent USGS sage
-
grouse publication (Knick and
Connelly 2009), and Literature on adverse fence impacts on sage
-
grouse, info on minimal
population sizes, and other recent studies that further highlight the severe adverse
environmental impacts that Ruby w
ill cause.

When there is scientific uncertainty, NEPA requires that FERC and BLM: (1) disclose
the scientific uncertainty; (2) information be gathered and completed if no adequate
information exists unless the costs are exorbitant or the means of obtainin
g the
information are not known; and (3) the potential, reasonably foreseeable impacts must be
adequately evaluated.


The EIS, subsequent blizzard of filings and mitigation documents lack adequate and
systematic studies across the actual north
-
south Footpr
int of the project in the landscape
where Ruby cuts across over 675 miles east to west. Ruby water sources, gravel pits,
worker camps, water use (withdrawal/extraction effects, conveyance, spill
-
out/discharge),
vehicle travel routes and traffic volumes, pi
pe yards, radically upgraded access routes, 50
ft. tall communications towers, noise impact zones, bright signage, helicopter use, etc.
sprawl across a huge landscape. The energy corridors pioneered by Ruby will promote
other energy development and sprawl.



Current conservation science shows the need to examine nesting habitat conditions for 18
km from leks for many sage
-
grouse populations. Ruby is going to be destroying
degrading, fragmenting and disturbing sage
-
grouse nesting and other habitats over a
mu
ch larger area than the “baseline” of disturbance examined in the mitigation and
Conservation Plan. To understand the effects on local and regional populations, Ruby
must analyze the entire footprint of the project, and look at the habitat conditions for t
he
affected populations. 675 miles x 18 km. (1 km =roughly 11 miles) = 7425 square miles.
This is an area much larger than the size of the state of Connecticut.


The Footprint includes all the activities Ruby would conduct


from gravel pits to well
drill
ing to workers camps to de
-
watering to revealing and analyzing areas where livestock
use will be shifted and intensified if Ruby builds hundreds or thousands of miles of
fencing for “rehab” in chronically grazed landscapes. The Footprint includes all the
R
uby
-
affected habitats and populations and impacts to important resources such as water.



8

How will all of this impact habitats and populations? What are the sage
-
grouse, pygmy
rabbit, antelope and mule deer habitats and populations, and what are the trends
in both?
What land area does their habitat encompass? What are their numbers and what threats do
various populations face? Are they declining? Have they recently faced losses of habitat
from wildfires? Please see earlier WWP comments for discussion of habi
tat losses from
wildfire. How, in the context of such losses, is any remaining habitat made more critical
to the species survival? How much has the “carrying capacity” for affected sage
-
grouse
populations been reduced in the past decade alone? How much is
the carrying capacity
reduced by BLM grazing schemes along the route that annually allow turnout of cattle
right on top of nesting sage
-
grouse? Or that annually allow removal of grass nesting
cover to levels of 50%


which translates into a 2
-
3 inch height

of the dominant depleted
understory grasses being all that remains behind for wildlife. Or that allow continued hot
season use on the degraded springs, seeps and drainage networks that Ruby will also
affect? Even the Nevada gold mine EIS’s may describe lo
sses or reductions in affecting
wildlife in terms of carrying capacity. Where is any Ruby EIS or mitigation assessment
consideration of this?


Carrying capacity must be understood in terms of the affected population. With species
like sage
-
grouse and pygm
y rabbit, it must also be understood in terms of essential
habitat components. Where are the land areas that
-

if they are disturbed, degraded or
destroyed by Ruby activity


the species population may suffer significant impacts, or
where local populations

may no longer be viable? The severity of the effects of habitat
losses may depend on the current status of the population. The EIS and mitigation are
silent on this. There is not a single lek or lek complex, or a single patch of deep soil big
sagebrush th
at Ruby is required to avoid by any significant distance.


We’ve watched as the Ruby route is moved about in some areas for a private landowner
with center pivots that Ruby may seek to buy water from, to maintain a lifestyles in an
area of Utah, to deal w
ith cultural concerns and other considerations


while Ruby
refuses to avoid destruction of critical wildlife habitats and a Globally Significant public
wild land area.


Ruby’s piecemeal submissions all the while lack critical biological info, analysis, an
d use
of current conservation science. Both the EIS and the mitigation are plagued by this, and
a lack of foreseeable and cumulative impacts analysis. They lack conservation planning
and analysis of the degree of fragmentation and impacts to sensitive and
imperiled
species in the Footprint of Ruby as well a “hard look” at the real
-
world effectiveness of
any mitigation package.


Agencies have faced stubborn and unjustified resistance from El Paso/Ruby in refusing to
examine part or all of an I
-
80 and DOE Co
rridor route to get the gas to Nevada and
California population centers


which is where Ruby claims the customers are! Ruby
refuses to avoid/abandon the destructive Proposed Route between Sheldon and Summit
Lake and other areas in this region, and stay ou
t of this sensitive Globally Significant
region of northwestern Nevada. Ruby failed to examine the Jungo
-
Tuscarora route.
Ruby’s failure to avoid sensitive habitats and its refusal to adequately evaluate several

9

reasonable science and conservation
-
based al
ternative routes shows the public that the U.
S. oil and gas industry is still not willing to adequately consider the plight of sagebrush
species.


If the need is to get gas to the population centers of Nevada and California, the NW
Nevada route chosen ma
kes no sense, especially in the context of energy infrastructure.
Part of the reason for the DOE Corridors (near I
-
80) was supposed to be to diversify
routes for national security purposes. Basically: Don’t put all your infrastructure eggs in
one basket. S
o why would Ruby then put even more eggs in the Malin hub basket, and
pipe gas through a lengthy circuitous route to get to Malin


where so much gas
infrastructure is already concentrated
-

in order to get gas to the supposed CA and NV
population center M
arkets?


Climate Change and Mitigation


While saying the undertaking is carbon neutral, Ruby would fragment and set in motion
insidious cheatgrass/medusahead weed spread, soil erosion, road expansion,
desertification processes, watershed disruption, de
-
w
atering, and large
-
scale disturbance
in one of the least fragmented sagebrush habitats remaining, and harm restoration efforts.
This will amplify the effects of climate change on imperiled species and habitats in the
region. Unspecified “active” restoratio
n projects that Ruby mitigation dollars would
foreseeably be spent on may actually promote more desertification, climate change
processes, habitat loss and population declines for native wildlife. See WWP Pygmy
Rabbit Status Review comments (Attached).


R
esearch and reports by university

researchers, USGS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), climate change

experts, and others describe land management, climate change, desertification, soil
erosion, and fugitive dust impacts.

Undisturbed public
wild lands naturally sequester
carbon. Invasion and dominance by cheatgrass and other weeds that will thrive on Ruby
disturbance alter fire cycles, increasing carbon in the air


and increase annual grass and
other weed dominance. Cheatgrass
-
dominated vege
tation communities have little ability
to naturally store and sequester carbon


in contrast to healthy native plant communities
that include mature native vegetation including healthy microbiotic crusts. Ruby has not
shown how these impacts are mitigated
for, or if various state agency “active” veg
treatments that kill and disturb native vegetation, may actually promote desertification,
climate change, and species loss.


Ruby’s conservation plans and analyses fail to examine how the changes in the sagebrus
h
landscape that it will promote (including insidious weed expansion and altered fire
cycles) may amplify the effects of climate change on sensitive species habitats. For
example, Ruby proposes mowing sagebrush. Mowing sagebrush results in hotter, drier
si
tes once the mature sagebrush is killed, and hotter drier sites are very susceptible to
cheatgrass invasion. The mitigation also references potential future “fuelbreaks”


that
would expand the zone of pipeline disturbance outward. Agencies are not learnin
g from
their past fuelbreaks in the region. Cheatgrass invasion of mowed fuelbreaks is occurring

10

across many of the fuelbreaks that Elko BLM and others have imposed on sagebrush
habitats in the region in recent years. See WWP Tabor Creek photos. See Peters
on (2007)
mapping and analysis. Peterson found in the adjacent Owyhee region of NV, ID and OR
that cheatgrass was spreading into areas thought to be immune in the hotter microsites.
Mowing sagebrush results in hotter site conditions. Recent research by Pre
vey and others
at ISU (see Prevey et al. 2009) show how mature sagebrush anchors the plant community,
and how sagebrush removal causes exotic species to expand. Cheatgrass invasion
promotes frequent fires and prevents native species recovery.


We are also
concerned that Ruby mitigation references fuelbreaks because the gas
company knows its actions will substantially increase fire danger in the region. The threat
of increased fire risk from Ruby has not been adequately examined.


Impacts from climate chang
e are predicted to be particularly pronounced in

Nevada, the most arid of western states, and other states in the sagebrush and salt desert
shrub lands that Ruby will disturb and destroy. Government and university

studies predict that lands will get even h
otter, water will become even scarcer, native

plant and animal life will suffer, and wildfires will become larger and hotter. These
impacts must be taken into full consideration when examining the adequacy and
effectiveness claimed to occur from mitigation
, as well as in taking a “hard look” at
alternatives and the relative degree of irreparable harm. Climate change science for the
sagebrush biome (see also USDI BLM Pellant Congressional testimony, USGS Knick
and Hanser 2009) shows lands cut through by Ruby

will be subject to much greater
stress, and suffer reduced ability to recover native vegetation and ecosystem processes,
face increased loss of surface waters due to heat and rapid runoff and changes in rainfall
patterns. Changes in precipitation patterns

are likely to favor cheatgrass and other weed
expansion. The effects of Ruby disturbance in creating a permanently disturbed area, the
effectiveness of the rehab actions, and the adequacy of Ruby mitigation for both
immediate and longer
-
term disturbance e
ffects (weed increase, soil erosion, watershed
and hydrological disruption, water loss) and the degree of irreparable harm that will result
are not adequately examined in the EIS, or conservation and mitigation measures.


Without data to inform understand
ing of all this, including in selection and development
of alternatives, meaningful and sufficient mitigation cannot be applied. This data is also
necessary to gauge if the impacts are unable to be mitigated. If impacts are great, and are
not able to be mi
tigated, then how significant to species persistence are they? If impacts
that are not able to be mitigated are found to be highly significant, how that may trigger
the need to revise alternatives, or consider new alternatives entirely? Which range of
poss
ible routes and route segments suggested to Ruby would most serve to minimize
adverse effects to the sagebrush biome and sage
-
grouse and pygmy rabbits? This was
never analyzed in detail.


The EIS, RPCA and CMP also fail to consider and weigh the
global sig
nificance

of NW
Nevada landscapes for species persistence in the face of climate change. Imposing
intensive and long
-
lasting disturbance on this
globally significant

area promotes habitat
fragmentation, weed spread, sagebrush loss. This will lower the natu
ral resiliency of the

11

area, the carrying capacity for native wildlife, and will affect the viability of wildlife
populations.


If Ruby is allowed to build this route, it will cut a corridor that other
energy/transmission/water mining and export companies a
nd other developers will
certainly use
-

through an undisturbed area in the heart of undeveloped Northwestern
Nevada sagebrush wild lands. All sound conservation science principles show should be
“off
-
limits”. The Proposed Route will degrade and destroy ha
bitats in one of the largest
and only remaining strongholds of sagebrush species. It must be viewed for what it is.
Analyses, alternatives development and mitigation must recognize the irreplaceable
values that will be lost.


If the Proposed Route is allo
wed to go forward


it will demonstrate that agencies and
industry are continuing the outdated mindset that sagebrush is a “disposable” landscape.

From the start, it was known that the Summit Lake
-
Sheldon
-
Proposed Route area was a
stronghold and core area

for sagebrush species and the entire area should have been
avoided.


Inconsistencies Abound


It is inconsistent that Ruby’s mitigation in Wyoming mentions a bit of seasonal
avoidance for Core Areas for sage
-
grouse. Other states, even though plans may des
cribe
Core Areas, do not appear to apply measures to protect them. We emphasize that
Ruby’s
Wyoming route also cuts right through a large identified Wyoming sage
-
grouse core
area and important leks
. It cuts right through the heart of a Wyoming Governor cor
e
area and an NRDC/Audubon Core Area that includes adjacent Utah as well. See WWP
Appendix A Wyoming Core Areas Map Overlays. See also Appendix A Ruby Route
Overlays with Knick and Hanser USGS Mapping.


Agencies cannot allow Ruby to show concern for core
areas in Wyoming, but not other
states! If Wyoming deserves mention of core areas


why don’t other states?


Even in Wyoming, a state that has been so torn apart by gas and oil industry development
and infrastructure, Ruby is not avoiding building its pi
peline through the heart of a sage
-
grouse Core Area. Ruby has provided no mapping that shows Wyoming core areas. All
mitigation does is to alter times of construction in the area of occupied active leks for a
distance of 3 miles inside Core Areas, and occu
pied active leks for 2 miles outside Core
Areas. This is unacceptable, since the number and density of leks is part of what is
considered in mapping the Core Areas in the first place. If there are fewer leks, the status
of the population is likely more per
ilous and the habitat already more fragmented. By
providing lesser lek avoidance distance “protections” for leks outside core areas, the
mitigation actions relegate the non
-
core lek to a sacrifice area and so lesser protections
may hasten the demise of the

lek. This is unacceptable.


Agencies cannot look at Wyoming with a different conservation lens than they do Utah,
Nevada, Oregon and California


where numbers of birds on leks are lower that those

12

reported by Ruby for Wyoming. Agencies can not piecemeal

sagebrush habitat
protections
-

requiring avoidance for grouse but no avoidance of any kind for the pygmy
rabbit, or several other species. What is the scientific basis for this? What is the
conservation science basis for this? If anything, the Utah and
Nevada leks and all
remaining sagebrush in Nevada should have maximum protection, given how low bird
numbers are along much of the route, and how vulnerable to cheatgrass the Nevada route
is. This state
-
by
-
state approach is inconsistent with best available

science, and arbitrary.


The historical age
-
grouse range has already shrunk dramatically. The ink isn’t even dry
on the Wyoming Core Area mapping effort. Yet Ruby is routing its pipeline through a
Critical Core Area there as well and not adequately analy
zing alternatives. So now the
Core Area will be more fragmented and suffer greater disturbance


and be on its way to
no longer being a Core Area!


To understand the adequacy of any of the mitigation, much more detailed baseline data,
mapping and analysis
of sage
-
grouse core areas, and sage
-
grouse, pygmy rabbit, and
other sensitive species occurrence and abundance, and key habitat components must be
provided. This must include mapping and information from all time periods for which
information is available.

Were some leks recently connected to other leks


but habitat
intrusions have severed connectivity? Have several previously active leks blinked out so
only one or two remain in an area? What is the basis for some lands being considered
core and others not
? How much core habitat is Ruby crossing in Wyoming, vs. non
-
core
habitat? Whose mapping is Ruby using to determine this? Have Biological Conservation
Alliance or others in Wyoming delineated important sagebrush habitats differently? What
is the trajectory

of the affected populations inside and outside core areas?


BLM Sagebrush Conservation Guidance


In allowing this project to proceed without much more detailed analysis, BLM has failed
to comply with its own guidance for sagebrush landscape conservation.
With a project of
Ruby’s magnitude that proposes to sever and destroy a
globally significant sagebrush
stronghold

and landscape

in order to get gas during a gas glut to population centers in
California and Nevada by a roundabout Oregon route, agencies shou
ld have insisted that
an effort be made at some type of conservation plan and recognition of critical areas of
the landscape along the lines of the core area concept. This would have allowed
reasonable alternatives to be developed, and the significance of
the route’s habitat
destruction and loss to be understood.


Concerns about NV Ruby Pipeline Conservation Agreement (RPCA) Approach


We will provide more detail on concerns about the Ruby Pipeline Conservation
Agreement Impacts Analysis Mile
-
By
-
Mile approac
h and mitigation later. Here are some
overview concerns.

The NV RPCA is largely adopting a piecemeal approach to the sagebrush landscape that
limits mitigation efforts applied. See RPCA at 1 “the team considered on site mitigation

13

opportunities along the
route in the form of limited operating periods”. RPCA at 2 states
that Ruby Consultants provided the Habitat Matrix that has been used to limit mitigation.


This results in Ruby being allowed to operate across many areas of native sagebrush, salt
desert sh
rub and other habitats during sensitive nesting periods for migratory birds and
other sensitive periods. Only some limited stretches here or there along the route would
be avoided for a brief time period, while extensive disturbance and habitat destruction

would be allowed to occur to nesting birds and wintering wildlife along much of the
route. The Limited Operating Periods (LOPs) are themselves extremely limited and
insufficient.


Agencies sacrifice habitats critical to sage
-
grouse and many species of wil
dlife. For
example, significant areas of low elevation big sagebrush that could provide “make or
break” habitat for populations in hard winters is allowed to suffer unfettered winter
disturbance. The Plan defines habitat to be avoided in winter extremely n
arrowly:

Winter. Higher elevation, typically low sage sites, confirmed to support concentrations
of grouse during harsh winter conditions”
. See RPCA at 7.


Why are there no areas of the globally significant sagebrush in the Black Rock and
Sheldon alternat
ives with any winter avoidance LOP for sage
-
grouse? This is what the
Table on NV RPCA p. 7 shows. Where is all recent systematic winter survey info over a
period of winters with varying snow levels that supports this? Unless a full and complete
landscape
analysis is added or overlaid, what this approach is really doing here is
minimizing mitigation and conservation

of species.


The NV RPCA LOPs further write off sagebrush habitats by primarily focusing on
Categories 1 and 2 habitats and casting aside Categ
ory 3 Habitats as defined in this
approach.


This approach maximizes Ruby getting what it wants: Year
-
round ability to construct the
line, and to continue to disturb the area for future “maintenance” with few constraints. It
also sets a precedent for wh
en Ruby lays a second line, or when a transmission or water
export pipeline follows the route Ruby has pioneered, or when gas lines to industrial
development branch off in the future. Ruby intends to simultaneously construct the line in
seven Construction
Segments, and has considered no alternatives to that. With the narrow
approach to mitigation, disturbance to “avoidance” areas will inevitably occur. Ruby
traffic and activity will pass by or through temporal avoidance areas
-

while traveling to
construct
the “open” segments. The traffic impacts and travel/traffic Footprint of Ruby
has never been examined.


In the avoidance mitigation, pygmy rabbits don’t rate any seasonal avoidance period. Not
even the time when pygmy rabbits may have young kits in shallo
w natal burrows, or in
winter when stresses of temperature for this one pound rabbit are great. Rabbits construct
special snow burrows to escape the cold and to still be able to safely access food. Pygmy
rabbit kits may be in burrows extending into late Ju
ly or August, especially in the
relatively higher elevation sagebrush areas. Disturbance and displacement of pygmy

14

rabbits in winter away from burrows, protective and thermal cover, and adequate food
may be especially stressful. Studies of pygmy rabbits sh
ow snow burrows may be an
adaptation to winter survival, and foraging activity period is highest in winter. (Katzner
and Parker, USFWS 2005, Larrucea 2009).


Global Significance of Summit Lake
-
Sheldon Area
-
Black Rock NCA Landscape


The Black Rock NCA is lo
cated just to the south of the Proposed Route.
The NCA Act
provides special designation to nearly 1.2 million acres of public land in northwestern
Nevada, establishing an 800,000 acre National Conservation Area (NCA) and designating
about 750,000 acres as

wilderness.


About 380,000 acres of the wilderness is within the
NCA.


http:
//www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/wfo/blm_programs/planning/Black_Rock_Desert
-
High_Rock_Canyon_Emigrant_Trails_National_Conservation_Area/black_rock_desert
-
high.html


The NCA language emphasizes the remoteness of the area:


Black Rock Desert
-
High Rock Canyon Emig
rant Trails National Conservation Area
Act

of 2000

[Page 114 STAT. 2763 Page 114, (U.S. Statutes at Large, page 114 ff.), Public
Law 106
-
554]
.
The language of the Act states:


The areas of northwestern Nevada known as the Black Rock Desert and High Rock
C
anyon contain and

surround the last nationally significant, untouched segments of the historic California
emigrant Trails, including

wagon ruts, historic inscriptions, and a wilderness landscape largely unchanged since
the days of the pioneers.




The la
nguage of the NCA Act emphasizes the last natural untouched pioneer trail
segments.


The sagebrush wild lands in the northern NCA, Summit Lake Reservation, Sheldon, the
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Natural Area, and the yet
-
unprotected critical connecting are
as
of sagebrush that are targeted by Ruby for development, are all part of one sagebrush
block. This area represents one of only two large remaining minimally developed blocks
of sagebrush. The other is the Owyhee region. The NW Nevada
-
Oregon area, with
po
rtions already specially designated for wildlife is unique in the world


in diversity of
sagebrush areas protected, and in some portions having undergone significant recovery
from grazing disturbance. Ruby and the energy development route it would impose
destroys future opportunities to provide long
-
term protection of a landscape area that is
essential to sage
-
grouse and pygmy rabbits. Ruby will directly alter and disturb this area
and set in motion processes that promote the ecosystem to unravel over time

-

through
habitat fragmentation, weeds, roading, fences, noise, and other effects, will promote

15

degradation of the neighboring protected lands. WWP had requested BLM evaluate and
designate an ACEC due to the area’s relevant, unique and important values to

sagebrush
species conservation.



In the sagebrush biome, the areas currently “protected” by Wilderness


often do not
adequately protect the habitat components that species like sage
-
grouse or pygmy rabbits
require and Wilderness areas are grazed unle
ss special efforts have been made to remove
livestock


efforts that are often fiercely resisted by BLM. Wilderness areas focus on
steep canyons and other areas that are the hardest areas for roads to have been built, or
are most fetching to the human eye


and that typically are not the flatter open landscapes
with combination of critical habitats areas required by sage
-
grouse, pygmy rabbit, sage
sparrow. Very important sage
-
grouse habitats in the NCA are in the northern portion but
the essential landscap
e for sage
-
grouse is located outside in the path of Ruby, as much of
the southern area of the NCA is salt desert shrub and playa. Some NCA sagebrush
habitats continue to be severely impaired by grazing practices and BLM has recently
authorized increased ca
ttle disturbance in both NCA and non
-
NCA lands. See WWP
Ruby DEIS comments discussing Soldier Meadows Grazing EA.


Sage
-
grouse require landscapes, and Ruby cuts through the heart of a unique Landscape.


“The distribution of sage
-
grouse is closely aligned w
ith the distribution of sagebrush
dominated

landscapes (Schroeder et al. 2004). The well
-
documented dependence of the species

on sagebrush cannot be overemphasized (Patterson 1952, Connelly et al. 2000, Hagen et
al.

2007). Lek trends across the range of th
e species were positively associated with the
proportions

of tall
-
stature sagebrush and all sagebrush land covers within 5
-

and 18
-
km radii of the
lek

location. Also, the coverage of sagebrush was greater within 5 km than within 18 km.
Low

sagebrush was co
mmon in only the northern Great Basin, where it was positively
associated with

sage
-
grouse.
Walker et al. (2007a) found strong support for models relating lek
persistence in

southern portions of the Great Plains with the proportion of sagebrush habitat wit
hin 6.4
km.

Aldridge et al. (2008) predicted that across the range of the species areas where sage
-
grouse

persisted, compared with areas where populations were extirpated, were those
containing at least

25% sagebrush cover within 30 km. Clearly sagebrush a
t both local and landscape scales
is a necessary, if not sufficient, requirement for viable sage
-
grouse populations.

Sage
-
grouse depend on sagebrush through all seasonal periods”. USGS.


This highlights the importance of the unique large connected landscap
es that the Ruby

16

route in NW Nevada would cut apart and adversely impact
.


Sheldon, and Hart Mountain to the north, are the largest ungrazed blocks of sagebrush
habitat of which we are aware. They are essential scientific reference areas, and
important sou
rce habitats for sage
-
grouse
-

a landscape species, and pygmy rabbit, an
extreme habitat specialist. This area is unique in the biome and the world.


Sage
-
grouse populations use Ruby’s route in the course of their annual cycle. Only a
barbed wire fence sep
arates Sheldon from the Ruby route. Sage
-
grouse populations in the
northern Black Rock NCA use the same landscape that will be disrupted by Ruby.


Summit Lake Reservation is the most remote Indian Reservation in the lower 48 states.


The Lahontan Cutthroa
t Trout Natural Area that Ruby also borders was established
because of the critical importance of the watershed, and the scenic beauty and biological
importance of the area.


The importance of this entire landscape as one of the largest blocks of undevelop
ed
sagebrush is shown by the recent USGS sage
-
grouse mapping. See WWP Appendix A
Maps (Knick and Hanser 2009 Overlays, Larrucea and Brussard 2008 overlays).


Ruby has seized upon a sliver of ecologically critical unprotected public wild land to
punch a new

corridor through, and bisect this irreplaceable landscape. The existing
protective designations (Wildlife Refuge, NCA) did not quite include a narrow band
-

only 2 miles wide in some areas


of sagebrush habitat between Sheldon and the NCA
where Ruby’s bu
lldozers and dynamite would blast through. All current conservation
science shows the importance of the entire area as a landscape. See Mapping and
discussion in USGS Knick and Connelly 2009, mapping in Knick and Hanser 2009. See
WWP maps Appendix A.


Not
only is the area unique as the critical connection between Sheldon and the NCA, all
current conservation science for sage
-
grouse highlights the importance of this region of
NW Nevada and adjacent Oregon as well. Keeping this landscape whole, while
recoveri
ng livestock

damaged parts, is critical to support sustainable and viable
populations of sagebrush species. with the fires in Nevada and Idaho in this decade, and
as the rapid and recent devastation caused by oil and gas companies in Wyoming plays
out, NW

Nevada is even more critical.


In the WWP Appendix A Mapping Overlays of USGS maps, as well as the Larrucea and
Brussard mapping, the actual lek count population numbers, pygmy occurrence work,
and/or sagebrush vegetation habitat info used in the analyse
s are largely from 2007 and
earlier. Thus the effects of recent fires including those on or near the path of Ruby, and
affecting the same grouse populations as Ruby, have not fully played out. Examples of
how the full impacts to grouse are not yet seen in

the analysis and mapping provided is
the mapping in Knick and Hanser (2009) which relies on 2004 and 2006 data. If this
mapping was done using the most current info, it would likely highlight the importance

17

of NW Nevada even more. Most of the Larrucea fie
ld work was done from 2003
-
2006,
and several of the documented pygmy rabbit occurrences in Larrucea and Brussard
mapping in eastern Nevada have burned.


Concerns about Ruby Studies and Inadequate Baseline


Critical information necessary to understand the f
ull scale of adverse impacts of Ruby’s
Footprint on sage
-
grouse and other native species habitats and populations have not been
conducted. Ruby’s studies have been conducted over a narrow land area, and for a
minimal period of time. There are many complexi
ties of sage
-
grouse populations and use
of the landscape that must be determined before agencies can authorize Ruby’s route or
determine necessary mitigation.


USGS (Connelly et al. 2009) describe basic info on populations and leks that is essential
for un
derstanding impacts of pioneering a mammoth new energy corridor and upgraded
road network in a sagebrush landscape.


“Sage
-
grouse populations may be non
-
migratory or migratory, moving >10 km between
or

among seasonal habitats (Connelly et al. 2000b). Leks

for non
-
migratory populations
may occur

near the center of the annual range (Eng and Schladweiler 1972, Wallestad and Pyrah
1974,

Wallestad and Schladweiler 1974). Migratory populations typically do not exhibit this
pattern

(Dalke et al. 1963, Wakkinen et

al. 1992). Travel by females dispersing between
wintering and

nesting areas, rather than vegetation type, may influence lek locations (Bradbury et al.
1989,

Gibson 1996).

Leks often occur in complexes, composed of one to two primary or large leks (>50

mal
es), one or more smaller leks and at times, satellite leks. Smaller or declining
populations

may simply consist of a few smaller leks (Connelly et al. 2004). A satellite lek is defined
as a

relatively small lek (usually <15 males) that develops near a larg
e lek during years with

relatively high grouse populations (Connelly et al. 2003). Occurrence of satellite leks
fluctuates

depending upon population size, and satellite leks may not be used in years when
populations are

low (Dalke et al. 1963). In a study
of 31 leks in Idaho, mean interlek distance was about
1.6 km

(Wakkinen et al. 1992). Of 13 leks examined in the Upper Snake River Plain in Idaho
(Klebenow

1969), two had an interlek distance of 0.8 km, but the distance was 2.4 km for eight
others. In


18

Wyomi
ng, lek density averaged 6.8 leks per 100 km
2
within a water
-
reclamation project
area,

and 8.4 leks per 100 km
2
in nearby, undeveloped sagebrush habitats (Patterson 1952).
Willis et

al. (1993) reported similar lek densities in Oregon”.


The baseline inform
ation Ruby collected was far too limited for the full adverse effects of
Ruby’s project and project Footprint to be understood.


The Ruby August 26, 2009 Biological Report filing shows:


Ruby’s efforts focused on leks within only 2 miles and surveys were c
onducted for only
one year. Yet differentiating between leks and satellite leks, and really understanding the
current status of the population and its use of the landscape is fraught with errors without
multiple year studies over a broader area of the land
scape. Most of the leks Ruby
provides info for have numbers as low as those that typify satellite leks as defined in the
current literature.


Surveys were conducted only in narrow areas close to the pipeline, then extrapolated
outward over a distance of 5
miles on either side of the pipeline. In fragmented habitats,
in lands with fragmented ownership, and in lands with differing grazing management
activities
-

this extrapolation is fraught with uncertainty.


Ruby’s process for understanding vegetation commu
nities is fraught with errors.
Extrapolating out from a small 300 ft. veg. area to a 5 mile distance is fraught with errors.
There can be dramatic veg changes in less than a mile due fire, agency “treatments” that
have destroyed native veg. to produce live
stock forage. The quality of habitat and
presence of cheatgrass in the understory can change dramatically on one side of a barbed
wire fence compared to the other. There can also be tremendous soil and elevation
changes. See WWP Ruby DEIS comments.


Mappin
g extrapolated sagebrush habitats out only 5 miles from the pipeline is not
sufficient to characterize the landscape used by the affected sage
-
grouse population. In
areas of complex interspersion of vegetation communities and soils, fires, and veg
treatmen
ts, extrapolating over short distances may be riddled with errors, as well.


In 2008, Ruby was considering winter habitat as areas with 10
-
35% sagebrush cover,
patches > 5 acres, and height only 8
-
14 inches.
(See Ruby August 26, 2009 filing), Table
1 Sageb
rush
-
Steppe vegetation Functional Attributes to be used in Sage
-
Grouse Habitat
Model
1).

Limiting sagebrush height like this is not consistent with the Literature, as it
appears to purposefully exclude large areas of sagebrush habitats used by sage
-
grouse
in
winter where sagebrush heights are greater than 14 inches. Then, it appears that in the
December 2009 RPCA LOPs this was whittled down even more to only considering low
sage with known larger numbers of wintering grouse for avoidance. This means that v
ast
areas of sagebrush, and the wildlife using those habitats along the length of Ruby, would
have no winter avoidance.


19


Patches of sagebrush of 5 acres size or larger, and other smaller patches seem to have
disappeared from the December 2009 LOPs mitigat
ion as well. What is the smallest
sagebrush area where avoidance periods or other mitigation would be applied?


Why has winter habitat been so narrowly defined? If Ruby avoided many important
sagebrush areas in winter
-

not just 8
-
14 inch high sagebrush at

higher elevations
-

it
would not be able to build the pipeline in winter. This appears to be why the avoidance
mitigation was so narrowly defined and biologically ineffective. Was pressure was
brought on agencies to pare down avoidance, and to provide no
real seasonal avoidance
of any kind for pygmy rabbits and migratory songbirds so Ruby could have seven
simultaneous construction zones operating around the clock including in the dead of
winter and also while birds are nesting in critical and sensitive sag
ebrush habitats?


Ruby’s pygmy rabbit search image might have excluded areas where big sagebrush
islands and inclusions are not the dominant vegetation type. This has not been adequately
described. How large an area of big sagebrush (height greater than 26

inches was part of
2008 criteria) was shown on the NV RPCA or other mapping? Pygmy rabbit
-
occupied
sagebrush may be shorter than this


how many of these areas were overlooked or
excluded by Ruby? Ruby used the characteristic of distance to perennial stre
am less than
28,000 ft. This is not relevant in much of the Great Basin. Did Ruby discard habitat by
using this model?


Ruby pygmy rabbit surveys were limited in lateral distance from the pipe line route:



Field observations of a 300
-
foot corridor along t
he pipeline were made the summer of

2008. Information on soils and vegetation were collected in addition to other pertinent

data. The vegetation and soils data will be used to ground
-
truth the remote sensed data

within the 300
-
foot corridor. The habitat ma
p within the 300
-
foot buffer [WHY is this
called a “buffer”] will have a high

degree of confidence because of the ground observations. Information from the 300
-
foot

corridor will then be used to map habitats in the 10
-
mile corridor albeit with a lesser

deg
ree of accuracy than the 300
-
foot corridor”.


For sage grouse, Ruby’s August 26, 2009 Bio
-
Report filing (data obtained by FOIA)
indicates that Wyoming leks counts may be higher than other states. It is odd and
unexplained why the leks counted by the entity

WWRLP in Lincoln County have more
birds than those counted by Ruby in Uinta County Wyoming where lek counts are more
similar to the low grouse numbers in Ruby and state agency counts along the rest of the
Ruby route. See Ruby August 2009 filing Bio Report
. Is a much more intensive effort
made to maximize bird counts in Lincoln County? Is the habitat different? In Utah, and
much of Nevada, the numbers of birds in attendance at most leks is very low. Oregon lek
info has not been provided for alternatives. Th
e low numbers of birds counted in
association with nearly all leks should have alerted agencies and Ruby to the fact that the
grouse populations are in significant trouble already. There are now areas across the
historical range of sage
-
grouse in Utah, Nev
ada, and Oregon where grouse have been

20

extirpated. Particularly in Utah and eastern Nevada, sagebrush has been replaced by
cheatgrass and agency planted crested wheatgrass
-

making some areas a biological
desert.


The Oregon portion of the Proposed Route
runs through historical sage
-
grouse habitat
-

but this is not considered or significantly mitigated for. Consideration of the Oregon
range of grouse along the Proposed Route and a Sheldon route must take into account the
rapid range contractions and extirp
ation of sage
-
grouse from much of adjacent California,
and the status of any remaining grouse across NE California. NE California is a region
where the pygmy rabbit historically occurred but has been extirpated. Range maps in
Connelly et al 2004 show the c
ontraction of the sage
-
grouse range in NE California and
SW Oregon sagebrush habitats. The last
-
minute Fort Bidwell shift may impact more leks
in this area and important pygmy rabbit habitat at the westernmost margin of pygmy
rabbit occupied range.


Ruby
’s analysis was flawed from the start. Ruby’s Baseline mapping in the August 2009
filing shows Potential Vegetation, and does not accurately provide a baseline for the
existing altered vegetation communities that are actually present on the ground now
(see
dings, fire, weedlands). It does not show the fragmented, burned, agency
treated/seeded crested wheatgrass, cheatgrass
-
dominated and wildfire burned vegetation
in many areas of eastern Nevada, for instance. Detailed mapping of current veg
communities and t
heir ecological condition over a land area that is relevant to the
population of sage
-
grouse or pygmy rabbits that would suffer a series of adverse effects
from Ruby must be provided.


Ruby NV RPCA LOPs and other Mitigation Ignores Effects of Water Withdra
wal,
Use, and Discharge


There is no mitigation that addresses providing sufficient brood
-
rearing habitat for sage
-
grouse, undisturbed wildlife access to waters, avoidance of disturbance in late brood
rearing habitats, etc. Ruby will be depleting water sou
rces and dumping waste water out
in numerous areas all along the line. The discharges have potential to drown rabbits,
inundate sage
-
grouse and migratory bird nests, promote invasive species, foster West
Nile virus, and have many other unaddressed and unmi
tigated impacts. All parts of this


from surface water or aquifer de
-
watering, water transport or conveyance and discharge,
and effects of the Ruby pipeline, road network and other impacts in altering hydrology,
natural extent of meadow and other areas is

ignored. There is no mitigation for this, and
the areas where this would occur, and the relative values and importance of those habitats
is not revealed. No part of the water use of Ruby is addressed.


Ruby Avoidance of Biologically Important Areas in th
e Plan Is Minimal and Is Not
Reasonable Based on Current Science


Ruby cuts through one of the last remaining blocks of sagebrush habitat that has not
undergone “development” for various industries, concentrations/complexes of leks, and
critical pygmy rabb
it habitats.


21


This is the dead opposite of what a current sagebrush species conservation science
-
based
approach to route alternatives and responsible energy development would have done.
Ruby has not conducted necessary mitigation by avoidance. If it had

done so, it would
have altered biologically significant portions of the Proposed Route and chosen one of
many other alternatives that it has refused to evaluate, or evaluate adequately.


For avoidance, Ruby could have followed the DOE Corridor along the
interstate in all or
a portion of NV. That area already has a high Footprint of human disturbance, much
cheatgrass and other weeds, large burned areas, and reduced quality and quantity of
habitat for sagebrush species.


First and foremost, it would have a
bandoned the northern Black Rock
-
Summit Lake
-

Sheldon area and sought a route that did not set the devastating precedent of slicing a new
corridor and inflicting intensive new and long
-
lasting ecological disturbances on a critical
sagebrush habitat. The in
formation that WWP provided to FERC in our comments,
accompanying scientific articles, and that is additionally discussed here shows the
global
significance

of the wildlife habitats and wild lands at stake here.


While Ruby has moved its pipelines to av
oid disturbed agricultural lands, center pivots,
and rural homeowners who did not want their quality of life disturbed, and for other
concerns


it has stood firm in its plans to cut into critical sagebrush habitats. It has
ignored concerns about avoiding

impacts to a unique area where a pipeline will
significantly and irreversibly degrade the quality of the habitat.


Ruby’s Uncertain Efforts Are Not Minimization of Adverse Effects


Ruby’s mitigation is not minimization of adverse effects. It is impossibl
e to determine
WHAT action will actually be implemented WHERE. Where will each and every action
claimed to be mitigation be implemented and occur on the ground, including in
association with travel and access routes, water source and discharge sites, grav
el pits,
etc? How will its success and effectiveness be gauged? All Ruby has done here is provide
a list of possible actions that are not required and can be thrown out in future sessions
with USWFS or others.


In closed door meetings with Ruby, state an
d federal agencies have acquiesced to the
highly uncertain and optional list of minimal mitigation for wildlife. There is nothing that
requires Ruby to move a single foot of the Route to avoid pygmy rabbits, or burrows, or
leks, if Ruby really doesn’t want

to.


The reality of construction projects


especially in remote areas distant from population
centers
-

is that when the Pipeline is being built, it will be most expedient for Ruby to
minimize route micro
-
realignment or any deviation from long
-
planned rou
tes. Large
crews of men working to stay within budgets and the clock/time commitments operating
bulldozers, land ripping equipment, and road construction equipment will be seeking a
straight path of operation to the maximum extent possible. Large equipment

operators

22

and engineers that will be overseeing this tend to think in terms of what is most efficient,
a straight line, etc. Facing this, the old and mature sagebrush community micro
-
habitat
features required by a one pound rabbit don’t stand a chance onc
e construction proceeds.
Does anyone really believe that all construction will grind to a halt for burrowing owl
chicks in underground burrows? No


they will be killed and their habitat destroyed.


Unless precise and detailed mapping and design of the rou
te and activities is mapped,
staked, and identified as off
-
limits from the start, any promises of the micro
-
mitigation
will be lost in the construction. And of course the mitigation action must be binding,
mandatory and rock
-
solid. Not malleable, “adaptive
” and changed by a phone call to
USFWS or NDOW.


The range of mitigation actions must be greatly expanded


if effects are indeed to
minimized. Agencies asked for much more substantial avoidance of sage
-
grouse leks, and
significant changes in routing align
ment for some pygmy rabbit habitats, yet this was
ignored by Ruby. These concerns are not reflected in the mitigation.


Ruby has not collected adequate biological, aquatic, watershed and other info in advance
to understand where and how to make its micro
moves, how to route a pipeline to
minimize adverse effects in the region, or to apply larger scale mitigation and sound
conservation science.


Ruby has not taken a modern
-
day sound conservation planning approach to
understanding the landscape
-
level Footpr
int and adverse impacts of Ruby. The public
(and agencies) trying to understand what is occurring were presented with a woefully
deficient DEIS followed by a series of inadequate piecemeal reports, many with critical
biological info omitted or brushed over
. See WWP comments on Ruby DEIS.


It appears that Ruby, in a time of a national gas glut, may be racing to get this project
authorized prior to USFWS making an ESA Listing Decision on sage
-
grouse and pygmy
rabbit.


In apparently accepting Ruby’s uncertain
, minimal and scattershot mitigation, USFWS,
BLM, and state agencies are not using current Best Available Science for sage
-
grouse,
pygmy rabbit and other sagebrush species. They are not ensuring the effectiveness of
mitigation by allowing it to be changed
on a whim. FERC’s DEIS and the later
piecemealed series of Ruby reports certainly do not provide a sound basis. In denying
WWP an opportunity to participate in the closed door meetings in summer 2009, FWS
said they were pretty far long already and essentia
lly that they didn’t want us there. It’s
hard to understand how the mitigation could have been so far along when the DEIS was
so flawed and lacking in biological data and substance. Ruby reports used to inform
understanding of what mitigation is needed are

still being submitted piecemeal in late
December 2009, or are lacking altogether.


FERC (and BLM as a Cooperating Agency) have allowed a woefully inadequate DEIS
that shirked NEPA’s “hard look” requirement, including a hard current scientific look.

23

WWP

provided extensive current scientific literature on the effects of disturbance to
sagebrush communities and wildlife. These deficiencies range from the key role of
microbiotic crusts, analysis of how Ruby disturbance effects will be amplified by grazing
d
isturbances, how weed spread will increase over time
-

particularly cheatgrass and other
weeds that pygmy rabbit and sage
-
grouse do not tolerate. The DEIS and mitigation
ignores consideration of how Ruby disturbance will cause rapid weed spread into some
of
the best remaining habitats, how unstoppable weed advances will be, the sketchy and
incomplete info on rehab species and fencing, info on the very long recovery times (if
recovery is even possible) of sagebrush from disturbances across the Footprint of
Ruby,
etc.


WWP provided science on the myriad threats to sagebrush communities, and the current
conservation science for sustaining viable populations of the imperiled species of the
sagebrush biome. We asked for full analysis of Ruby disturbance across
the Project
footprint, the adverse project effects on local and regional populations and the risk of
Ruby as a cause of species extirpation and loss. We asked for full consideration of several
alternative routes other than the Proposed route that cuts asun
der
globally significant

remote and undeveloped wild land area that will be destroyed by the Pipeline. This
included abundant info on the harmful effects of infrastructure (Connelly et al. 2004
WAFWA Conservation Assessment for greater sage
-
grouse), variou
s Holloran, Naugle
and other work, papers by Dr. Clait Braun, pygmy rabbit info and studies, etc.


This should have been examined while considering indirect, cumulative and synergistic
adverse effects, and whether portions of the route would not be able to

be mitigated. We
also highlight the need to understand: 1) The precedent for many kinds of other
developments/lines that this route will set. If BLM allows Ruby to have this Route and
loose, uncertain and minimal mitigation, it will pave a new Corridor fo
r all manner of
other development disturbances like high voltage transmission lines or gas plants in this
remote and undeveloped area; and 2) The rapidly unfolding series of new or expanded
development threats to the same species

local, mid
-
scale, PMUs an
d regional
populations
-

from renewable energy and corridor/transmission “rush” and sprawl
underway especially in Nevada and Oregon. SWIP and a proposed Transcanada Project
are examples of this.


Efforts to replace even one patch of old growth big sagebrus
h destroyed by Ruby can
only be understood in the context of the long time it will take for any recovery, the risk of
weed expansion and dominance, and the habitat deficits and fragmentation that will exist
until recovery occurs.


Science is increasingly
showing the very long recovery times of sagebrush communities
from disturbance See USGS Baker (2009). It is showing the high susceptibility of
disturbed sagebrush communities to invasive exotic species. See Belsky and Gelbard
2000, Connelly et al. (2004),
USGS Monograph Chapters 2009. Sage
-
grouse are most
likely to persist in large blocks of higher quality sagebrush habitat with minimum human
intrusions. See USGS Baker (2009).



24

All these concerns seem to have been ignored or minimized in the conservation m
easures
and mitigation.
To understand how reasonable any mitigation is, it must be developed
based on sound current science, and its effectiveness must be determined using best
available conservation science. Allowing Ruby construction during the nesting p
eriod for
migratory birds when Ruby will certainly crush eggs and nests, kill nestlings, and kill or
displace adult birds is not compatible with current


or any
-

conservation science.


Allowing construction to occur on top of pygmy rabbit shallow natal
burrows in spring
and summer, or destruction of rabbit soil and snow burrows and food plants during
stressful winter periods is not compatible with best available science.


Throughout Ruby’s claimed “mitigation” by avoidance the only gauge seems to be tha
t if
anything discomforts Ruby very much it is not considered. The actions that are
considered are so whittled down, or subject to change


that many of the weak promises
will be meaningless or abandoned once bulldozing begins.


The limited site mitigation
was further constrained by a narrow view of what Ruby’s
effects will be. “
The teams considered on site mitigation opportunities in addition to and
assumption of basic reclamation [whatever this is] of the 115’ wide pipeline footprint

(NV
-
RPCA at 1). In m
any areas, Ruby disturbance will extend far outside 115 ft. The full
Footprint of Ruby has not been adequately considered in mitigation analyses.


RPCA CONCERNS


NV Ruby Pipeline Conservation Agreement (RPCA) Impacts Analysis Mile By Mile
Effort


We comme
nd Nevada for conducting a systematic analysis of some habitat components
impacted by Ruby. We have many concerns about the adequacy of baseline information
and data that Ruby should have been required to assemble, the failure to conduct
necessary analysis

of the full Footprint of Ruby, and the failure to examine landscapes to
understand the effects on habitats and populations. We also do not understand why this
analysis was not conducted for the DOE Route and Jungo
-
Tuscarora.


The RPCA at 1 states:
“The sa
ge
-
grouse/pygmy rabbit team began the Conservation
Agreement process by completing an analysis of the impacts of the Ruby pipeline
proposal. Starting at the Utah/Nevada state line (approximate milepost 230) and ending
at the Oregon state line, the team com
pleted a detailed assessment which considered the
life history requirements of each species along three pipeline route alternatives. The
process involved contractors associated with Ruby and the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM), and the cooperating agencies
, but focused primarily on local expertise and on
-
the
-
ground resource knowledge of employees of the BLM and the Nevada Department of
Wildlife (NDOW). The process utilized detailed mapping of the pipeline routes provided
by Ruby which was projected over var
ious layers of GIS information. These layers
included aerial photography, vegetation and soils mapping, NDOW seasonal range
mapping, Nevada Natural Heritage data, and current wildlife survey information from

25

Ruby and the agencies. The process, dubbed a “mi
le
-
by
-
mile” analysis, displayed each
mapped seasonal range or life history element along the routes by species. Participants
then engaged in a detailed discussion of the impacts of the pipeline for that specific
resource value. Discussions considered habit
at quality, degree of utilization by the
species, habitat degrading features such as anthropogenic impacts, recent wildfires,
invasive species, and other relevant information such as radio
-
telemetry or historical
utilization. Each route segment was then ca
tegorized using a set of Habitat Matrix
definitions specific to each species. Categories were defined to provide a habitat quality
metric as a basis for future consideration of mitigation opportunities. Thus higher
category impacted habitats would be consi
dered for higher levels of mitigation than
lower ranked habitats”.


Where is all this information displayed? Where are the methods associated with all parts
of this process provided in a report, analysis or Appendix so that the public can
understand how th
is was carried out, and the protocols used to develop categories and to
make decisions? How were decisions of importance, significance, adverse effects,
relative harm, appropriate mitigation, effective mitigation, non
-
mitigatable done? How
were relative ef
fects one various species balanced? As we review the limited “avoidance”
and other mitigations, it is hard to understand how such minimal protection measures
could have been obtained for wildlife and watersheds. Many of the measures proposed as
the minimal

mitigation in the December 2009 documents show little change or
improvement from what was proposed in the DEIS. Many of the “mitigations” are really
just what other agency documents would call “BMPs” Best Management Practices. Many
are not really mitigati
on


just a minimum action required by common sense.


The RPCA is basically a mile
-
by
-
mile look. There was some limited integration of larger
scale info, but it is unclear how this was done, how Ruby vs. agency data was used, and
how decisions were made. T
his does not describe variations in the scope of analysis in
different areas. There is no list of areas in the landscape and times of the year for which
current surveys were lacking, where there were gaps or inadequacies in data, why only 2
mile intensive
lek surveys were required, why Ruby was allowed to extrapolate data, how
Ruby mapping was derived, why winter habitat became to be defined so narrowly, how
active and historic leks were considered, info on population declines and trajectories of
population
s, etc. There appears to be no identification of core habitat areas, no population
viability analysis, no fragmentation analysis, no analysis of how various threats were
addressed, or how the magnitude of Ruby adverse impacts was assessed.


The RPCA analy
sis summarizes by saying
-

essentially


that the Proposed Route is
worse, and “
except

for pygmy rabbit
would lead one to select Sheldon Route in Oregon”.

How was this
arrived at? The report and mitigation appear to demonstrate a consistent bias that sta
te
agencies seem to have to sacrifice pygmy rabbit habitat in attempts to stave off sage
-
grouse ESA Listing.


Our review of Ruby’s January 2009 and August 2009 filings related to wildlife
(discussed below) find inconsistencies, omissions, and mapping sleig
hts of hand

26

(discussed later in these comments). This flawed Ruby info was the primary biological
information in front of FERC and the public when it granted the Certificate of Necessity


and it was fraught with biological omissions and flaws.


This mile
by mile analysis does not take into account the ecological importance of the
entire landscape that Ruby refuses to avoid, including by evaluating a broader range of
alternatives such as the Tuscarora gas line part of the Jungo
-
Tuscarora route, or portions
of the I
-
80 area DOE corridor, or re
-
routes along the length of the line consistent with
earlier agency comments. Until a landscape and population analysis is done, the
inconsistencies between Nevada, Sheldon and Oregon with each party pointing in the
dire
ction of its neighbor, and saying “Put the Gas Line in that
other
place”, will continue.


No full and fair comparison of alternatives considered in the Mile
-
by
-
Mile anlaysis was
possible


since Ruby failed to reveal roads for the Gehrlach
-
Black Rock lengt
h (no fault
of the report). New roading with that segment would be minimal, as that route runs along
a paved road heading north from Gehrlach.


The analysis failed to provide the broad array of biological and ecological info that is
required to understand
adverse effects along the length of the route or a broad range of
alternatives. Ruby was not required by agencies to conduct lek and other biological
surveys across the Footprint of Ruby, and along portions of other routes that may have
greatly reduced bio
logical impacts in western Nevada and other areas.


There is no consideration of alternative routes in eastern and central Nevada. Agencies
appear to have given up on changes there. Yet conflicts with important sage
-
grouse lek
complexes and occupied pygmy
rabbit habitat exist. In understanding adverse effects and
conducting conservation planning, the ground
-
disturbing activities of Ruby, and the
location of the Ruby Footprint and disturbance within the broader landscape should have
been examined. Ruby’s ro
ute has been tweaked for other concerns
-

for center pivots,
rural lifestyle and other concerns. Why did agencies not require bigger changes
-

for
sage
-
grouse or wildlife Example: avoid areas of Saval, Pie Creek, Taylor Pass, Upper
Maggie leks? Or for the
concentrations of rabbit occurrences in eastern Nevada?


If agencies view the Matrix and other RPCA analyses as adequate for NV, why was a
mile by mile analysis not required for all states, and across a range of alternative routes in
all states? Are popula
tions of affected species confined by state lines? In NE Utah, the
Ruby route crosses what is likely the habitat for one of the only populations of sage
-
grouse and pygmy rabbits that may be viable in Utah due to its connectivity with the
larger Wyoming are
a.

In other states: Why wasn’t the area of important pygmy rabbit habitat in Utah avoided
altogether? Why was more analysis of the entire route not required? Why was Ruby not
moved out of the core habitat in Wyoming?
The leks reported in Wyoming within 2

miles
of the Ruby line have large numbers of grouse in attendance, compared to the vey few
grouse in Utah, and generally much lower lek attendance in Nevada. See Ruby August
26, 2009 filing.



27

The Garton et al. 2009 USGS analysis provide approaches to popu
lations and
understanding changes over time in populations that is lacking in the EIS and RCPA.
Note: Garton et. al reference does not provide info based on the most current data as
sage
-
grouse population estimates are from 2007 and prior. In the case of R
uby, data
should be current. So the effects of most recent fires have not been fully seen in
population declines


in a species like sage
-
grouse which is a relatively long
-
lived bird
-

being felt on the landscape. There were large fires in the Great Basin
in both 2006 and
2007. See Espinosa and Phenix 2008. See Appendix A Map super
-
imposing Ruby’s path
on the NDOW Nevada wildfire and lek mapping from 2008.


Analysis for Ruby should take info for all time periods available, including up to 2008
and now 2009

lek info, and provide a much
-
expanded analysis based on conservation
science and population analyses. This is required to determine the full cumulative effects
to species in this landscape, and the current status and trajectories of populations
including
into the future.


Then, critical analysis of the added or cumulative effects of Ruby in leading to potential
loss of individual leks, remaining lek complexes and population effects, and effects on
population trajectories should be provided. This should al