BLM’s Public Land Rule

The Bureau of Land Management recently undertook a long-overdue rulemaking to update its approach to public land management.

The BLM’s impact in the country cannot be overstated, as it manages one out of every 10 surface acres and 30% of the nation’s mineral and soils. With more than 245 million acres of rolling sagebrush hills, deserts, grasslands, forest, and wetlands, the BLM manages some of our nation’s most iconic and loved landscapes, and some of the most critical habitats for birds including Lesser Prairie Chicken, Pinyon Jay, and more.

Congress tasked the BLM with a mandate of managing public lands for a variety of uses such as energy development, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, and recreation while ensuring maintenance of natural, cultural, and other resources. Historically, conservation has often taken a backseat to more consumptive uses, and this proposed rule takes the important step of putting it on equal footing.  

BLM lands bring substantial recreational dollars to nearby communities, provide physical and mental health opportunities for people of all means and backgrounds, hold invaluable evidence of human prehistory, are rich in cultural heritage and sacred sites, provide critical wildlife corridors across the western United States as well as habitat for more than 3,000 species, many of which can be found nowhere else.

Americans love nature and the outdoors, wild landscapes and iconic wildlife, and conservation remains a common bond among us, regardless of where you live. We want our public lands managed sustainably so that we may be able to pass them in healthy condition to our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

BLM should be commended for taking action to promote conservation and land health, which are consistent with its mission, authorities, and responsibility. While the federal agency has largely focused on oil and gas, mining, and other extractive uses, we feel that these must be balanced with conservation, recreation, wildlife and watershed health, and cultural resource protection. Audubon is supportive of the three main components of the proposed Public Lands Rule: (1) protect the most intact, healthiest landscapes, (2) restore landscapes back to health, and (3) ensure wise decision-making based on science and data.

Our nation’s public lands are experiencing extreme weather events such as wildfires, droughts, and severe storms – which are occurring at increasing frequency and intensity. This proposed Rule will help us have healthy intact landscapes that are more resilient and able to recover more easily in the face of natural disasters. In keeping with passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the proposed Rule would allow federal land managers to be identify and prioritize lands and waters that require ecosystem restoration work, such as removing invasive species. 

Where there are existing intact landscapes, the use of conservation management tools should be encouraged. Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) is an existing administrative tool available to the BLM which has historically been under-utilized and inconsistently applied, and we are happy to see that the rule provides clarification on and expansion of its use. With the adoption of the rule, ACECs can play a critical role in protecting important natural, cultural, and scenic resources, intact landscapes, habitat connectivity, and ecosystem resilience. 

We are also encouraged to see habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors emphasized in the proposed Rule. Such connectivity is essential to allow migrating wildlife – including birds – to adapt to a changing climate.

America’s public lands are a national treasure. This rulemaking is an important opportunity for BLM to restore balance to its land management priorities and to encourage an inclusive approach to conservation that includes co-management with Tribal nations and the consideration of land health in all decision-making. Public comments on the rule are currently due June 20th, but this deadline may be extended. Submit a comment to the BLM HERE.

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