The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules that would prioritize “conservation” and authorize conservation leasing on equal footing with other permitted uses such as mineral development and livestock grazing has generated enough controversy that western Republican Senators are asking the agency to withdraw the proposal.
Although the BLM’s proposed rules veer from its “multiple use and sustained yield unless otherwise specified by law” mandate, the agency is now proposing to manage for what it calls “ecosystem resilience and intact ecosystems” which would prioritize “conservation” – even though those concepts are not mentioned in federal statutes guiding how public lands are to be managed.
The BLM has received more than 30,700 comments on its proposal so far, including 17,000 comments that have been posted to Regulations.gov. Nearly 8,700 form letters were submitted via The Wilderness Society’s website urging the BLM to “prioritize conserving our public lands for the benefit of people, wildlife and the climate,” and notes: “For far too long, BLM has focused on development and resource extraction — 90% of BLM lands remain open to oil and gas leasing. This imbalance is grossly incompatible with current U.S. climate and conservation goals. The prioritization of resource extraction is actively contributing to the climate crisis; use of lands for unregulated motorized recreation is destroying critical wildlife habitat and damaging important Indigenous cultural sites.”
The proposed rules are generally supported by environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Sierra Club.
Recognizing that the impacts of the proposal would be substantial, many organizations are calling for the BLM to extend the comment period or withdraw the rules in their entirety. A letter from nine Wyoming organizations noted that the proposal “is among the most significant changes to federal land management since the passage of the Federal Land Management and Policy Act nearly 50 years ago,” yet only provided for a 75-day comment period. The letter was signed by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Associated General Contractors of Wyoming, Petroleum Association of Wyoming, Wyoming Wool Growers, Wyoming Stock Growers, Wyoming Mining Association, and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.
On Monday, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah joined Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and other Republican colleagues in sending a letter to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning to request the BLM withdraw its proposes rules. Other signatories on the letter include Senators John Hoeven (ND) and Steve Daines (MT), James Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Kevin Cramer (ND), James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee (UT), Dan Sullivan (AK), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Deb Fischer (NE), Mike Rounds (SD), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Roger Marshall (KS).
“The proposal creates a framework for ‘conservation leases’ without authorization from Congress. The proposal specifically notes that ‘BLM shall not authorize any other uses of the leased land’ that it determines are ‘inconsistent’ with this new framework, thereby interrupting the successful balance of other responsible uses from hunting and grazing, to energy development and recreation,” the senators wrote.
“This new leasing regime opens the door for a new, noncompetitive process designed to lock away parcels of land, with no limits to size, for a period of 10 or more years. It’s clear that anti-grazing and anti-development organizations would abuse this tool to attempt to halt ranching and block access to our nation’s abundant energy reserves located on public lands,” the senators continued.
“BLM’s proposed Public Lands Rule is an effort to empower special interests that have long opposed BLM’s statutory mandate by prioritizing non-development over the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. Taking large parcels of land out of BLM’s well-established multiple use mandate would cause significant harm to many western states and negatively impact the livelihoods of ranchers, energy producers, and many others that depend on access to federal lands. As such, the proposal should be withdrawn immediately,” the senators concluded.
Last week, Senator Barrasso joined with Idaho colleagues Crapo and Risch to introduce federal legislation to block the BLM’s proposed rules, and the list of co-sponsors of the draft bill continues to grow, including Senator Lummis as well as other western Republicans.
The public comment period on the proposal is open until June 20.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.