Biden’s BLM conservation proposal faces opposition at the Utah GOP

Does preservation make sense? Nobody would dispute that this is not the case.

But is conservation a “purpose of use”?

That question is getting a lot of discussion after the Biden administration proposed the “Public Lands Rule,” which Western Republicans say has the potential to destroy grazing, mining and recreation used on Bureau of Land Management lands at large take place west.

“The BLM’s proposed rule would undermine the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, recreational businesses and more in Utah,” Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said in a statement. “In a state that has so much natural beauty to share, this rule seeks to lock up those precious lands that should be open and accessible to the public.”

Curtis and 11 other western Republicans in Congress have introduced a resolution calling on the BLM to withdraw the proposed rule, which they say will usurp Congressional authority. The entire Utah congressional delegation spoke out against the rule.

The Biden administration and Western Democrats say the proposal fits within existing law, which they say puts conservation on an equal footing with grazing, mining and other activities on state land.

“Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act in 1976, and while Congress mandated that land be managed for multiple purposes, conservation has long been sidelined,” Stephanie Garcia Richard, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, said before one House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing this week on the rule.

There are several components to the proposal, but one of the most controversial is the idea that the government should offer “conservation leases” for state lands. Under the proposal, conservation groups could “lease” BLM land that needs to be restored and invest in that restoration with the assurance that it will remain protected as a result of the lease. According to the BLM, the leases “must be consistent with and not override applicable existing rights,” meaning land under conservation leases could continue to be used for other uses.

Republicans don’t buy it. They say the leases go beyond Congress’ intentions with the 1976 law and that the BLM’s 75-day public review process is inadequate for such a significant change.

“This new lease rule opens the door to a new, non-competitive process aimed at foreclosure of land with no size limit for a period of 10 years or more,” Utah Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney wrote in a letter BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “It is clear that anti-grazing and anti-development organizations would abuse this tool to try to stop livestock farming and block access to our country’s abundant energy resources on public lands.”

Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Association, said that while his organization could potentially secure a conservation lease, he has no plans to do so at this time. “I could imagine that an operator on a renewable energy and/or renewable energy transmission project would try to acquire a conservation lease to offset the impact of their project,” Bloch said. “A tribal nation could also seek to acquire a conservation lease to protect an important area for traditional herb collection or an area of ​​special importance.”

There is one traditional western constituency that could benefit from the scheme: hunters and fishermen. Large hunting and fishing groups could be logical holders of conservation leases to protect wildlife habitat.

“The surest way to restore the health of big game species is to improve their habitat,” wrote Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation, in an editorial in the Nevada Independent. “The agency’s proposed scheme places an emphasis on restoring land and watersheds to improve biodiversity and wildlife connectivity across landscapes. This is done in a way that does not endanger other uses such as mining or grazing. Instead, it will focus on identifying areas that can be feasibly restored.”

“Trout Unlimited has a long history of working with the BLM on conservation initiatives and projects in the field to restore trout and salmon habitat and improve the health of watersheds, and we appreciate this new effort to make America’s common land and water more resilient,” Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood said in a statement. “Public areas face multiple challenges — a historic drought, increasingly violent wildfires and invasive species, as well as the development of new energy sources and increased mining.” As BLM works to address competing interests, we’re pleased that the agency is recognizing conservation as one of the most important uses of our public lands.”

“We are reviewing the proposed rule and will be providing comments soon,” said Ryan Bronson, director of government affairs for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “This proposed rule was developed without input from us or other hunting protection organizations we work with, so we are trying to understand what the proposal would achieve. We will provide more detailed comments in the near future.”

The Blue Ribbon Coalition, which is more focused on off-road vehicle access than wildlife habitat, is staunchly opposed. “This rule will be a way for conservation organizations to create de facto wilderness despite their failure to get Congress to make such restrictive designations.” to balance conservation with other uses,” Coalition executive director Ben Burr said in a Salt Lake Tribune comment.

Members of the Utah Legislature also sent a letter reading “Dear Director of the Bureau of Land Management,” without naming Stone-Manning. “The BLM’s proposed rule conflicts with decades of public land law that has allowed multiple uses on public lands and years of effective public land management by the state of Utah,” read the letter, signed by 82 of Utah’s 104 legislators, all Republicans.

The proposed rules also aim to increase protection around “areas of critical environmental risk”, a term defined in the 1976 Act to include areas where special management attention is required to protect historical, protect cultural and scenic values ​​or wildlife or other natural resources. Several such areas already exist in Utah, including Central Pacific Railroad Grade in Box Elder County, Nine Mile Canyon in Carbon County, and Upper Beaver Dam Wash in Washington County. It’s unclear if the rule would change how these areas are managed.

Justin Scaccy

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