BLM proposes public lands rule
On March 31, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published text of a proposed rule making significant changes to the agency’s authority under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
The act, as amended, would advance the BLM’s mission to manage public lands for multiple use and sustained yield by prioritizing the health and resilience of ecosystems across the lands and apply land-health standards to all 245 million acres the BLM manages, instead of limiting them to federal livestock grazing allotments.
The rule would also designate conservation as a formal use of public lands, on par with energy development, grazing and recreation and revise regulations to ramp up identifying and designating Area of Critical Environmental Concerns (ACECs).
The proposed rule noted conservation leases “would not override valid existing rights or preclude other, subsequent authorizations so long as those subsequent authorizations are compatible with the conservation use.”
Several agricultural organizations, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC), have expressed serious concern regarding the BLM’s proposed rule.
According to PLC, the proposed rule was developed by agency staff, without consultation or input from grazing permittees or other regulated stakeholders.
“Ranchers have a reasonable expectation of transparency and predictability when dealing with BLM, and this proposed rule falls short on both accounts. The covert manner in which the rule was developed and announced has left permittees feeling like the rule is either a capitulation to the extremist environmental groups who want to eradicate grazing from the landscape or a concerted effort to develop rules precluding ranchers’ input,” said NCBA Executive Director of Natural Resources and PLC Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover.
“Over the next 75 days, BLM will have to answer some serious questions about their understanding of their multiple-use mandate and the value they place on their relationship with ranchers across the landscape,” she continued.
According to U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the rule undermines the law’s multiple-use requirement.
“In the 1980s, extremists used tree spikes to try and stop responsible management of public lands. In 2023, they use decrees from Washington, D.C. This announcement undermines the law’s multiple-use requirement for BLM lands,” said Barrasso.
“Wyoming families depend on access to public lands for energy and critical mineral development, grazing, forest management and recreation,” he added. “The Biden administration’s extreme unilateral action will kill multiple use. This is a clear violation of the law. I will do everything in my power to stop this proposal.”
PLC said BLM has repeatedly assured PLC leadership and other industry stakeholders their primary goal is to increase the level of trust their partners have in the agency. However, according to PLC and NCBA, this rule is a massive step in the wrong direction.
PLC and partners are seeking a clear statement from BLM that grazing leases are conservation measures.
Proposal and support
Under the rule, BLM field offices and districts would be required to identify federal rangelands in need of restoration work and establish a system to lease public lands for a fixed period of no more than 10 years to allow this work to be done.
Energy developers, mining companies and other land users could purchase conservation leases and use them as compensatory mitigation to offset project impacts as a condition of permit approval. The proposed rule would also allow for nongovernment groups to buy these leases and pay to conduct restoration work on the land.
In addition, the rule proposes codifying BLM regulations, specifically procedures to identify and evaluate rangelands for designation as ACECs. This would provide “more cohesive direction and consistency” to the designation of ACECs, which are generally managed to prioritize protection of specific plants, animals and wildlife habitat.
“Our public lands provide so many benefits – clean water, wildlife habitat, food, energy and lifetime memories, just to name a few – and it’s our job to ensure the same for future generations,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a statement.
“As pressure on our public lands continues to grow, the proposed public lands rule provides a path for BLM to better focus on the health of the landscape, ensuring our decisions leave public lands as good or better off than we found them,” she continued.
“These proposed changes are long overdue,” said Ken Rait, project director for U.S. public lands and rivers conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “In the face of climate change and loss of biological diversity, BLM needs more conservation tools, and this rulemaking is an important step forward.”
Vera Smith, senior federal lands policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, said the proposed rule is “an invaluable opportunity for BLM to rebalance its priorities and safeguard habitats for wildlife that are trending toward extinction.”
For more information, contact Deputy Division Chief for the Wildlife Conservation Stephanie Miller at 202-317-0086. For information on procedural matters or the rulemaking process, contact Regulatory Analyst for the Office of Regulatory Affairs Chandra Little at 202-912-7403.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.