bureau of land management conservation

Bureau of Land Management Final Rule: Conservation and Landscape Health

You might be familiar with the Bureau of Land Management or their environment and natural resource laws, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. However, other less well-known laws play a significant role in managing the nation’s environment and public lands, especially out west. One of which has been making headlines recently.

Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA)

Public land use decisions are governed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976. The FLPMA established a management framework for the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), which emphasizes the BLM manages lands for the “agency’s multiple-use and sustained yield mandate to serve present and future generations.” These multiple uses are defined to include recreation, grazing, timber, mineral extraction, watershed management, wildlife and fish conservation, and the preservation of scenic, scientific, and historical values. Following these guidelines, the BLM creates management plans to balance and sustain these diverse uses.

Final Rule: Conservation and Landscape Health

In April, the BLM issued its Final Rule: Conservation and Landscape Health. This update is mandated by federal law, which requires that the BLM update its management plans every 20 years. This new Rule “recognizes conservation as an essential component of public lands management, on equal footing with other multiple uses of these lands.” By providing the BLM with the tools “to help improve the health and resilience of public lands in the face of a changing climate; conserve important wildlife habitat and intact landscapes; facilitate responsible development; and better recognize unique cultural and natural resources on public lands.” More specifically, the Rule first “Directs BLM to manage for landscape health,” second “Provides a mechanism for restoring and protecting our public lands through restoration and mitigation leases,” and third, “Clarifies the designation and management of ACECs [Areas of Critical Environmental Concern].”

Significance and Controversy of the New Rule

Given the BLM manages more public land than any other agency,  this Rule marks a distinct deviation from how the BLM used to manage the 245 million acres of Public Land and 700 million acres of mineral land under its authority. Thus, it has garnered much attention, both for and against, as the  BLM received over 200,000 comments from states, local governments, tribes, and individuals.

Environmentalists are celebrating the BLM’s adoption of a conservation rule, while opponents argue that it disrupts the agency’s multiple-use mandate. The Rule is controversial, but why? Due to its allowance for conservation leasing.

The Rule’s proponents argue that the conservation changes bring a significant shift in priorities on par with fossil fuel extraction and grazing.. However, opponents express concerns that this change could limit public access and uses that have been the backbone of the West’s rural economies for nearly a century. This controversy underscores the Rule’s potential to reshape the landscape of public land management.

Beyond permitting conservation leasing, the Rule also instructs the BLM to designate additional “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs).” BLM defines ACECs as “areas where special management is needed to protect important resources, such as wildlife habitat, cultural, historical, or scenic values, or to protect human life and safety.” However, it is essential to recognize that not all areas with these resources are BLM-designated ACECs, with permitted activities varying based on each site’s specific resources

Why Does this Matter?

This rule could increase recreational opportunities on BLM-administered land for everyday Americans, but could also decrease permitting and leasing for the extractive and grazing industries. Overall, the scale of this impact could vary, and it’s important to consider the potential decrease in output. If you’re interested in reading the Final Review yourself, you can currently access it via the Federal Register Volume 89, Issue 91, Pages 40308-40349.

Written by Maxwell Bridge, Associate Attorney, at KMD Law