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Western states file suit: Wyoming and Utah challenge BLM over new conservation rule

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On June 18, the states of Utah and Wyoming filed a joint lawsuit challenging the new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Public Lands Rule, which took effect on June 10.

The Public Lands Rule, according to the BLM, restores balance in the management of public lands by putting conservation on par with commercial uses like oil and gas, grazing, mining and logging. 

The rule also creates “restoration and mitigation leases,” through which the agency can lease degraded public land for rehabilitation by states, nonprofits or developers.

However, the two Western states are suing the U.S. Department of the Interior and the BLM for failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions, but the BLM finalized the Public Lands Rule without the required environmental review. 

According to the case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, this misstep needs to be corrected as the new Public Lands Rule overhauls the BLM’s land management priorities in ways the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) does not allow.

In a 34-page complaint, attorneys for both states ask the court to repeal the rule and place an injunction while the process plays out in the court, basically nullifying it for the time being.

The BLM manages roughly 10 percent of all land in the U.S. and approximately 30 percent of its minerals, and in Wyoming, the BLM manages 18.4 million acres of the state’s 62 million acres.

The Cowboy State

Gov. Mark Gordon has been opposed to the Public Lands Rule since its first draft was proposed in the spring of 2023.

Gordon announced the lawsuit on June 19, calling the BLM’s rule an attempt to “eliminate multiple use through a corrupted definition of conservation.”

In a press release, he says, “Ever since this abomination of a rule raised its ugly head, demonstrating the Biden administration’s disregard for the law, I have fought it tooth and nail.”

“This legal challenge ensures this administration is called out for sidestepping the bedrock federal statutes which guide public land management by attempting to eliminate multiple use through a corrupted definition of conservation, and for doing so with impunity. I look forward to our day in court and putting the BLM back on the right path,” he continues.

In a letter to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, Gordon criticized the rule and the process by which the agency arrived at it.

“The proposed rule was rushed and did not include the benefit of a thorough public engagement effort. It mischaracterizes conservation as something mutually exclusive of what existing users already do, seeks to preempt wildlife management from the states and oversteps the scope of authority BLM was given by Congress under FLPMA,” he writes.

In his letter, he accuses the BLM rule of being pushed from the top down to serve an agenda of organizations whose meal ticket is cultivating hysteria instead of better management.

Over one-third of Wyoming lands are already under restricted use for conservation purposes, and many county economies depend on the ability to properly utilize federal lands.

“It appears Wyoming’s comments and those from our people who depend on public lands for their livelihoods were completely overlooked,” Gordon says in a previous statement. “The BLM plan will completely upend economies across the West, including grazing, recreation and energy.”

In June 2023, Gordon testified on the draft rule before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in Washington, D.C.

The Beehive State

Joining the fight against the BLM is Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes.

The state of Utah is also deeply concerned about the recent Public Lands Rule, which could have a devastating effect on the health of its public lands.

According to a June 21 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Cox states, “Nearly half of all lands managed by the BLM in Utah are already covered by special designations restricting uses that provide environmental protections.”

He continues, “BLM lands in Utah are also managed in accordance with a variety of federal laws which provide additional safeguards ensuring proper use and management.”

“The new Public Lands Rule is devastating to Utah as it allows the BLM to unnecessarily restrict access to millions of acres of land by adopting a hands-off, museum-like management approach,” adds Reyes. “The rule redefines and prioritizes ‘conservation’ or ‘non-use’ over all other legal and productive uses, directly violating existing federal law and vitiating the intent of multi-use policies as required by FLPMA.”

Assistant Attorney General Kathy Davis comments, “Utah is America’s leader in proactive conservation, where state and local governments work cooperatively with local BLM employees to improve and restore landscapes while mitigating the risk of catastrophic wildfires, but the Biden administration’s new rule seems specifically designed to hinder those efforts.”

BLM’s substantive priorities under FLPMA changes how the agency will carry out its mission with guidelines for the management of all 245 million acres of federal public land, including 22.8 million acres in Utah.

“Utah is committed to managing our public lands for multiple-use and sustained yield, providing access for all users of all ages and abilities and opposes closing any existing access on public land. The BLM has increasingly failed to keep these lands accessible, forcing Utah to take action in the courts,” Reyes says.

This rule significantly impacts any state where federally-controlled land is plentiful.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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