Imagine this: The local government is preparing major changes to the zoning laws that will have a great impact on what your property can be used for. But you don’t get a chance to review the proposed changes, question the data or methodology used to support the changes, or offer alternatives—until one of the last public hearings on the move.
Sound unfair? Of course it does.
But that’s pretty much the way the Bureau of Land Management has been developing the regulations that govern Western public lands co-owned with the rest of America by sportsmen and other outdoors recreationists.
And that's why conservation groups are urging sportsmen to show their support for the BLM's recently released Planning 2.0 initiative, a long-awaited reform of the process the agency uses to develop regulations that govern how our lands can be used.
“The proposed changes would finally give sportsmen and the greater outdoor community—as well as local and state governments, industry and ranchers—a chance to become involved as the regulations are developed from the beginning of the process,” said Judith Kohler of the National Wildlife Federation.
The current process often has left sportsmen groups rushing at the last minute to verify BLM assertions of fish and wildlife impacts for some permitted uses.
For instance, in the recent draft environmental impact statement for the agency’s White River District in western Colorado, which has been the scene of expedited oil and gas permitting, the BLM claimed the local mule deer herd numbered 106,000. Sportsmen trying to find muleys in that area only wished the number was that high.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife had recent research showing the herd was actually around 43,000,” Kohler said. “That can make a huge difference when trying to assess the impact on mule deer of mineral development. If you say the impact would be a 30-percent reduction and the herd is 106,000, it’s not quite as significant as 30 percent of 43,000.
“Under the proposed changes, we would not get that information so late in the process—and we could find and correct these kinds of errors.”
Another important change would require the BLM to look at impacts of its regulations on a landscape level, rather than put the blinders on outside of individual districts.
“For example, there are pronghorns that migrate from Wyoming into Colorado—which means they cross two BLM districts,” Kohler said. “But traditionally, the BLM would only look at what is inside its district—and miss any impacts regulations would have on critters that move between districts.
“The proposal would change that, requiring the agency to consider the impacts on the landscape basis.”
The proposals are being supported by the NWF, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and many other sportsmen’s groups.