Burr: Bureau of Land Management has it wrong with new conservation rule

Landscape Health and Conservation Rule would allow conservation leases on potentially all of the 247 million acres of land managed by BLM.

In the early days of his presidency, President Biden laid out his vision to comply with the 30 x 30 agenda, which is a marketing scheme developed by hardline environmental groups to justify locking up 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. Those of us who understood he had no legislative mandate to propose such a vision wondered what administrative chicanery would be deployed as an extra-constitutional workaround to accomplish something the American people didn’t ask for.

Now we know. The plan is to sell off our public lands to the same environmental groups who schemed up the 30 x 30 agenda.

This will be accomplished by the Bureau of Land Management’s recently proposed Landscape Health and Conservation Rule. According to the BLM, secret statutory authority has been hiding in plain sight for 50 years in the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that would allow them to create and sell conservation leases on potentially all of the 247 million acres of land managed by the BLM.

This rule is problematic and should be withdrawn. At the BlueRibbon Coalition we are working to unite public land users of all types to oppose this rule for the following reasons:

  • First, the Bureau of Land Management doesn’t have the authority to create this rule out of administrative thin air. FLPMA doesn’t contemplate a conservation lease scheme, and if Congress wanted the BLM to administer such a program, they would have expressly authorized it. This scheme would also likely raise revenue for the government, which again, is something BLM doesn’t have authority to do. Only Congress, can authorize a new program like this that raises revenue for the government.

  • Second, this rule won’t work. I have reviewed BLM project files where the agency and high-minded conservation organizations have entered into agreements to manage land towards conservation priorities. In these cases, all parties to the agreement flagrantly neglected to uphold the terms and conditions of the agreement. If the conservation leases don’t have any teeth for non-compliance, then they could cede management control of public lands to 3rd parties at the same time the public will have few if any tools to hold the 3rd parties accountable for non-compliance.

  • Third, this rule is unnecessary. The BLM is already required to comply with dozens of other laws and executive orders to prioritize conservation on public lands. Scores of environmental lawsuits that get filed every year ensure that the compliance with these laws is taken seriously. Despite the statutory requirement the BLM has to manage public lands for multiple use, conservation is prioritized above all other uses on a regular basis.

  • Fourth, this rule could easily lead to unintended intervention into public land management by foreign governments. If the government of Brazil wanted to further monopolize the American beef industry, it could funnel dark money to organizations that oppose public land grazing that could use the funds to acquire conservation leases on public grazing allotments to interfere with those grazing operations. If China wanted to kill an American lithium industry in its infancy, it could fund wildlife protection organizations to acquire conservation leases in areas rich with lithium.

As a leading national non-profit that works to protect recreation access to public land, at the BlueRibbon Coalition we are worried that this rule will be used to limit motorized recreation, dispersed camping, and all other forms of outdoor recreation on public lands. This rule will be a way for conservation organizations to create de facto wilderness, where they have failed to get Congress to make such restrictive designations. The $800 billion outdoor recreation industry thrives because of BLM’s careful efforts to balance conservation with other uses. By prioritizing conservation even more than it already is, we will undermine an industry that is fueling the livelihoods of many who live in the West.

We are grateful for the leadership of Representative John Curtis, who has introduced HR 3997. This legislation instructs the BLM to withdraw this rule. The rest of the Utah delegation has supported this legislation with Senators Lee and Romney supporting a Senate companion bill. We are encouraging everyone who supports public access to public land and a strong American economy to join Utah’s congressional delegation in telling the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw this rule by visiting sharetrails.org/withdraw-the-rule/.

Benjamin Burr is the Executive Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition – a national nonprofit that has been working since 1987 to protect public access to public land.