June 20, 2023
Western governors are sharply criticizing a new U.S. Bureau of Land Management rule they say would restrict use of public lands to the detriment of livestock grazing, resource development and other activities.
The federal government on June 15 extended the public comment period on its Public Lands Rule, which it claims will restore critical habitat and clean water and protect lands in the face of increasing drought and wildfire. Comments will be taken through July 5 on the proposal, which was unveiled in late March.
Idaho’s Gov. Brad Little, Wyoming’s Gov. Mark Gordon and four others sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland describing the rule as a solution in search of a problem. They pointed to existing conservation measures on BLM and other federal lands.
“Tens of millions of acres of BLM lands across the western United States are already protected under strict federal designations such as national monuments, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, areas of critical environmental concern, etc.,” the governors wrote.
“Of the remaining BLM lands still open to multiple use, there is still a very high bar set before any kind of surface disturbing activities can be authorized, and many barriers to development in existing BLM resource management plans,” they added.
The other signers were Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Gianforte has also sent a letter to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning requesting the agency withdraw the proposal.
Federal officials say the proposed Public Lands Rule would establish a framework to ensure healthy landscapes, abundant wildlife habitat, clean water and balanced decision-making. They contend the BLM would still support multiple uses of lands but put conservation on an equal footing with other activities.
With money from the spending bills approved last year by Congress, the new regulation would direct land managers to identify landscapes in need of restoration and develop plans, prioritizing places based on land and water health, opportunities for partnerships and local benefits, according to BLM.
The proposed rule “is essential” to the BLM’s ability to respond to landscape changes, Stone-Manning said.
“We appreciate the useful public input we’ve already received through five public meetings and the first 75 days of the comment period,” she said. “This extension will allow us to continue to work with the public to make sure that the final rule is durable and effective.”
But Wyoming’s Gordon and others complain that while the BLM held in-person information sessions in Denver, Albuquerque and Reno, rural areas were virtually silenced. Gordon and Noem testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on June 15 in favor of a bill to nullify the rule.
“Let me say, my administration values the relationships we have with Wyoming BLM staff, which is why it seems so boneheaded to spurn valuable, on-the-ground stakeholder knowledge and the ability to work with local partners to craft a useful way forward,” Gordon told the committee. “Wildlife management is the responsibility and squarely within the authority and purview of the states – not the federal government.”
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