As a hunter who has long enjoyed the pursuit of Utah’s big game and upland birds on public lands, I understand the value of healthy, intact habitat.
Frequent wildfire, intense drought and encroaching development on the landscape have resulted in increased pressure on elk, pronghorn and mule deer herds. The health of game species like these, and others, relies upon the conservation of critical migratory corridors and winter range. In a state like Utah, where 42% of the landscape is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the actions taken by this agency have enormous influence on wildlife.
As our nation’s largest land management agency, the BLM is tasked with managing our public lands according to the multiple use and sustained yield mandates given by Congress through the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act of 1976, or FLPMA. This includes energy development, livestock grazing, recreation and timber harvesting. However, FLPMA also states that the BLM, “where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition.”
A proposed rule by the BLM would for the first time elevate conservation as a “use” of public lands, putting conservation on equal footing with other uses of the lands held in trust for the American people. For hunters, anglers and others with an interest in the health of fish and wildlife, the BLM’s Public Lands Rule represents an opportunity to protect and improve landscapes and watersheds with priority habitat.
As proposed, the rule would not impact valid existing uses of public lands such as grazing or energy development. In fact, it would provide a new and innovative mechanism known as conservation leasing that would allow industry to complete compensatory mitigation to offset development projects through the restoration of public lands.
This new tool would create an opportunity for interested parties to complete conservation projects that restore degraded ecosystems and improve resiliency while also raising revenue. Importantly, conservation leases would be time limited and would not preclude hunters and anglers from accessing public lands for recreation.
Western states like Utah have unique outdoor recreation opportunities with unparalleled access to public lands, the value of which will be expanded by managing with conservation as a goal. The BLM Public Lands Rule would appropriately value the role of conservation in the agency’s mission. This would benefit hunters and anglers like me who often rely on public lands to get afield. I applaud the BLM for making appropriate changes to ensure they provide the same enjoyment for future generations.
A public comment period on the BLM rule will remain open until June 20. It provides you as a public land owner an opportunity to share your support for conservation.
Kaden McArthur, government relations manager for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, was born and raised in Utah and now lives in Washington, D.C. He returns home to hunt and fish as frequently as possible.