BLM proposal would allow conservation leases on public lands

Advocates said the new rules would help protect wildlife habitat, clean drinking water sources and rural economies.
More than 90% of public lands managed by the BLM are currently available to be leased to oil and gas developers. (Adobe Stock)

by | Apr 10, 2023 | Environment

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comments on a new management proposal which includes leasing parcels of public lands for conservation.

Chamois Andersen, senior representative of the Rockies and Plains program for Defenders of Wildlife, said the new rules would help protect wildlife habitat, clean drinking water sources, and rural economies. As the nation faces more frequent and powerful wildfires, prolonged drought, and other impacts of a changing climate, Andersen stressed the proposal shows timely leadership.

“To consider climatic changes, and the impacts to our native grasslands with drought conditions,” Andersen explained. “And to really take this more holistic approach, putting conservation right in line with other uses of the land.”

The BLM said conservation leases will create revenues for state and federal tax coffers, in part by allowing industries working on public lands to mitigate their environmental impacts. The Western Energy Alliance has criticized the proposal, and told Reuters adding conservation leases would “stretch the boundaries” of the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Comments can be made on the BLM’s website through June 20.


The new rules would also pivot the BLM’s mandate away from a 150-year-old law still on the books giving priority to hard rock mining over all other public lands uses, including outdoor recreation. Andersen pointed out the agency has an opportunity to bring its multiple use mandate into the 21st century, and to ensure the landscapes will be available for multiple uses by future generations.

“Because if you’re not conserving it, and you’re not managing it in a sustainable way, then it can be a free-for-all,” Andersen contended. “We don’t want the agency to go that direction. So this is a very thoughtful approach that is going to benefit all the values and multiple uses of BLM lands in Wyoming and beyond.”

More than half of Wyoming is public lands, and Andersen noted they draw visitors from across the globe who spend money — at gas stations, restaurants, hotels — vital to rural economies. She added it is important for the agency’s priorities to include protecting migration corridors and other natural assets drawing people to the outdoors.

“And to view native grassland birds, to see pronghorn antelopes, to appreciate that swift fox are doing well in the state,” Andersen outlined. “And to know that BLM is playing a large role with connecting landscapes.”

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