BLM introduces final "Public Lands Rule," emphasizing conservation

Bureau of Land Management
Posted at 6:14 PM, Apr 19, 2024

HELENA — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has announced a new rule that leaders say is aimed at improving the health and resilience of the public lands they oversee.

On Thursday, the Biden administration said they had finalized a new “Public Lands Rule” for the BLM – a refined version of an initial proposal they introduced a year ago.

“Our public lands provide wildlife habitat and clean water, the energy that lights our homes, the wood we build with, and the places where we make family memories,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning in a statement. “This rule honors our obligation to current and future generations to help ensure our public lands and waters remain healthy amid growing pressures and change.”

Leaders said the rule would help the BLM respond to impacts from a changing climate, encourage responsible development and put conservation on equal footing with the multiple other uses the agency manages for.

The BLM highlighted three major changes in the rule:

· It directs the agency to consider “the fundamentals of land health” – including watersheds, ecosystems, water quality and wildlife habitat – when managing all public land uses. Currently, leaders say they’ve applied those principles only when making grazing decisions.
· It creates a process for issuing “restoration leases” and “mitigation leases.” In a restoration lease, an individual or group could get approval to do work on BLM land to improve a degraded landscape. In a mitigation lease, they could compensate for environmental impacts from a project in one area by enhancing conservation values in another location.
· It tells the BLM to prioritize designating “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,” or ACECs – areas that have special, site-specific management practices to protect wildlife, natural resources, historical and cultural resources or scenic values, or to address hazards.

The BLM manages more than 8 million acres of public land across Montana – around 8% of the state’s land area.

The announced rule drew praise from several Montana environmental groups, including the Montana Wildlife Federation and Montana Conservation Voters. They said it would provide important balance in land management and move the BLM away from a focus on resource extraction.

“By recognizing conservation as a legitimate use of our public lands, this historic change will resonate with all Montanans who value our iconic landscapes, waters, and wildlife,” said MWF Executive Director Frank Szollosi. “This rule ensures our lands are managed sustainably, supporting not only our $2.5 billion outdoor recreation economy but also our cultural and ecological heritage.”

But Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke criticized the rule, warning that it could be used to “lock up” lands and prevent their use for grazing, mining, energy production and recreation.

“Despite the Administration’s claim, this rule is anything but balanced,” Daines said in a statement. “It violates the ‘multiple-use mandate’ for public lands and is yet another heavy-handed, egregious attempt to force Montanans off public lands to comply with its climate fantasy since it can’t pass it through Congress.”

The BLM said it had taken public comments on the initial plan into consideration when making this final version. In response to concerns about the restoration and mitigation leases, they said leases won’t be issued where they conflict with existing uses like grazing, and that recreational uses can generally continue where they are issued. They said the ACEC process will continue to include “robust public involvement.”

This rule announcement comes just a week after two other BLM rules: one that updated requirements for oil and gas leases on public lands, including higher charges for companies to drill, and one that encourages renewable energy development.