NDA Supportive of BLM’s Public Lands Rule While Encouraging Clarity and Additional Input

July 17, 2023 By: Torin Miller

The National Deer Association (NDA) recently joined nearly two-dozen conservation partners in submitting comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the agency’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule (Public Lands Rule). An overview of the rule provided by BLM can be seen here.

The NDA supports the vision of the BLM to clarify and support the agency’s multiple use and sustained yield authority provided through the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), with a focus on restoration and conservation of wildlife habitat. Still, its vitally important that the BLM continue to engage stakeholders from all backgrounds while forming a final rule, and clarifications and modifications should be made to the proposed rule to ensure effective and lasting conservation outcomes.

Stakeholder input is incredibly important in any rulemaking, and we encourage the agency to make every effort to answer questions from the public and multiple use stakeholders on the rule before it is made final. Doing so will result in a better-informed, workable, and resilient product.

The proposed rule is robust, prioritizing conservation as a ‘use’ under the agencies multiple use mandate, intact landscapes, ecosystem resilience, mitigation, land health and conservation leasing. All of these priorities, if approached thoughtfully and with thorough input, could provide tremendous benefits for restoration and conservation of wildlife habitat on BLM-managed lands.

Conservation leasing, specifically, has generated a lot of public response – from all directions. The novel concept could allow for outside funding of restoration or enhancement projects on BLM lands. If designed and implemented properly, conservation leases could provide a new method for funding, staffing, and monitoring restoration and enhancement projects to fully restore public lands for the enjoyment of people, the prosperity of fish and wildlife, and to make the land more resilient to future impacts from drought, wildfire, and invasive plants. They can also serve as a new tool to ensure that impacts to resources on public lands are offset by replacing those same resources still on our public lands.

To ensure effectiveness and broad support for conservation leases, we’re asking the BLM to:

  • Clearly distinguish how conservation leases outside of a mitigation context are for the primary purpose of restoring or enhancing degraded public lands, rather than for protection of existing highly functioning land. We recommend renaming the leases to better reflect this purpose, by referring to leases outside of a mitigation context as “restoration leases” and those for mitigation purposes as “mitigation leases;”
  • Make clear what lands will be prioritized for conservation leases in order achieve a clear conservation purpose. We recommend that conservation leases be prioritized in areas where the prosed actions are likely to significantly move a landscape towards meeting land health standards, or in landscapes inventoried as intact lands, per § 6102.2 of the rule; and
  • Clarify in the final rule that the agency’s proposed definition of “casual use” would include low-impact activities, such as access for hunting or fishing and other forms of recreation. A small but meaningful edit to the BLM’s proposed definition would be to change the word “appreciable” to “measurable” as it is more clearly implementable.

Overall, the Public Lands Rule has the potential to greatly benefit conservation of wildlife habitat on BLM lands. But we’re asking BLM to continue to gather – and take seriously – public input and concerns with the proposed rule. We believe some modifications and changes are necessary to achieve lasting conservation impacts.

About Torin Miller:

Torin Miller is a licensed attorney and NDA’s Senior Director of Policy. He works at the intersection of conservation and natural resources law, policy, advocacy and education. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a J.D. from Penn State Law. Torin came to NDA via the National Deer Alliance, where he served as the Policy and Outreach Coordinator.