Earlier this month, the United States Department of the Interior proposed a new rule that could fundamentally change how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) makes decisions about land use, bringing conservation to the forefront. The rule would direct BLM decision makers to “protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and make wise management decisions based on science and data,” the proposal reads.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres, almost exclusively in the American West. The agency has been charged by Congress—through the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA)—to manage these lands for multiple uses. Historically those uses have included recreation, mining, grazing, timber, and oil and gas development. With its new rule proposal, the BLM is hoping to add conservation to that list.

“As the nation continues to face unprecedented drought, increasing wildfires and the declining health of our landscapes, our public lands are under growing pressure. It is our responsibility to use the best tools available to restore wildlife habitat, plan for smart development, and conserve the most important places for the benefit of the generations to come,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a press release issued on March 30. “As we welcome millions of visitors to hunt, fish and recreate on our public lands each year, now is the time to improve the health and management of special places.”

Putting Conservation on Par with Other Uses

Referred to as the Conservation and Lands Health Resources Rule, or Public Lands Rule for short, the proposal would “direct land managers to identify and prioritize public lands and waters that require habitat restoration work.” According to the BLM, that would include projects like invasive species removal and stream bed restoration. The rule could also expand the agency’s efforts to restore and maintain important migration corridors that big game species like deer, elk, and antelope depend on for survival.

“Our public lands provide so many benefits — clean water, wildlife habitat, food, energy, and lifetime memories, to name just a few– and it’s our job to ensure the same for future generations,” said Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “As pressure on our public lands continues to grow, the proposed Public Lands Rule provides a path for the BLM to better focus on the health of the landscape, ensuring that our decisions leave our public lands as good or better off than we found them.”

Support in the Hunting Community

The proposed rule has broad support in the hunting-focused conservation community, including endorsements from both Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). “This framework will give BLM managers the tools they need to manage for intact and resilient landscapes,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “It prioritizes important active management prescriptions to tackle invasive species and the restoration of lands and waters through conservation leasing—an underutilized tool that will encourage partnerships and collaboration with local communities and NGOs like BHA.”

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According to the TRCP, the Public Lands Rule would bring much-needed clarity to the BLM’s “multiple use” land management strategy. “[We] support the restoration and conservation of fish and wildlife habitat on BLM lands as part of the agency’s multiple use and sustained yield mission, and we appreciate the opportunity to engage in this process,” said TRCP’s Joel Webster. “We plan to roll up our sleeves to ensure that the BLM’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule improves management of our public lands to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen.” 

The draft rule is currently open for a 75-day public comment period that closes on June 20, 2023.