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Public Land Use Debate Continues: Biden administration proposes plan to open public land leases to conservationists

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

President Joe Biden and his administration recently proposed a plan to let conservation groups buy 10-year leases on government property in order to restore degraded land and make conservation an “equal priority.” 

According to a May 15 Associated Press article written by Matthew Brown,  this proposal would allow conservationists and/or other individuals to lease and restore federally-owned land, similar to the way oil companies buy leases to drill and ranchers buy leases to graze. 

Brown notes companies, such as oil drillers for example, would also be able to buy conservation leases to offset damage to public land by restoring acreage elsewhere.

Prioritizing conservation

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning tells the Associated Press the plan comes as a response to rising pressure over climate change and development, and while BLM has issued limited conservation leases for specific cases in the past, they have never had a program dedicated to it. 

She further notes the rule would make conservation an equal priority alongside grazing and drilling, and conservation leases would not usurp existing ones.

“If grazing is now permitted on a parcel, it could continue,” she says. “And, people could still hunt on leased property or still use it for recreation.”  

“It makes conservation an equal among the multiple uses we manage for,” she continues. “There are rules around how we do solar development. There are rules around how we do oil and gas. There have not been rules around how we deliver on the portions of federal law that say, ‘Manage for fish and wildlife habitat. Manage for clean water.’”

According to Brown, the rule would also establish more areas of “critical environmental concern” based on their historic or cultural significance and/or importance for wildlife conservation. 

Stirring debate

Biden’s proposal has stirred debate, especially across the West, as how best to use public lands. 

Several opponents, including Republican lawmakers and individuals involved in the agriculture industry, have expressed their belief Biden’s plan is a sneaky way to shut out agriculture, mining and energy development on public lands. 

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) believes the proposed rule is illegal and voiced concerns during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is “giving radicals a new tool to shut out the public.” 

“The secretary wants to make non-use a use,” says Barrasso. “She is turning federal law on its head.”

Following a statement made from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association which says the plan would upend land management in the West, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez (D-NV) urged the administration to work with ranchers and farmers before finalizing the proposal.

On the other hand, environmentalist groups have embraced the proposal, noting it is long overdue. 

Joel Webster of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says he believes the administration’s plan would ensure the landscape is considered for conservation without enforcing strict restrictions. 

Public comment on the proposed rule is encouraged and can be voiced during public meetings scheduled May 25 in Denver, May 30 in Reno, Nev. and June 1 in Albuquerque, N.M. as well as during a virtual event on June 5. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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