Blog Post Angela Gonzales, Kristen Brengel, Matthew Kirby Jun 22, 2023

5 Reasons to Care About This New Public Lands Rule

The Bureau of Land Management is considering a meaningful shift in how it treats our public lands. NPCA supports this improved balance between conservation and other uses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Bureau of Land Management announced April 18, 2024, its approval of the Public Lands Rule that strikes a balance between conservation and extractive land uses.

This spring, the Department of the Interior proposed a new regulation in Bureau of Land Management policies that would put conservation on equal footing with other uses. The regulation would ensure the agency more fully lives up to its mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of public lands when it makes management decisions.

If enacted, this proposed “Public Lands Rule” would make a meaningful shift in how we treat our public lands. It also would further the agency’s collaboration with Tribes and local communities to ensure more cultural knowledge and better resource preservation to enhance public lands management, while addressing the worsening effects of climate change.

“As pressure on our public lands continues to grow, the proposed Public Lands Rule provides a path… 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.” — Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning in a statement

This public lands rule would greatly benefit the future of our public lands and national parks by ensuring natural resources and wildlife are well protected, while also making lands more resilient to fire and drought. The bureau manages 245 million acres — a tenth of the total land area of the U.S. — with many of these lands surrounding national parks. In Utah, for example, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments provide critical protections for the region’s larger, interconnected national parks including Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

What happens outside a park’s borders can dramatically impact the air, water and wildlife inside the park itself — which is why it’s important to ensure adjacent lands are well-managed, too.

The bureau manages 245 million acres — a tenth of the total land area of the U.S. — with many of these lands surrounding national parks.

Public lands surrounding national parks offer important habitat for iconic species like desert tortoise and bighorn sheep, and they protect important sacred and spiritual sites. They also provide ample recreation opportunities for millions of people every year to hike, camp, climb, fish and hunt — and economically, they generate $887 billion in spending and more than 7 million jobs that help communities thrive.

The fate of millions of acres rests with this agency. Here are five reasons why NPCA supports the Bureau of Land Management’s strengthened approach to providing clear, thoughtful decision-making in regard to conservation, restoration and recreation on our public lands.

1. Makes conservation equal to development and other uses

Despite a multiple-use mandate that already includes conservation, the bureau has had a long-standing reputation for prioritizing extraction and grazing activities above recreation and the protection of wildlife, watersheds and cultural resources. In fact, 90% of bureau-managed lands are open to extraction and other commodity-driven development. This development is heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer, who often gets very little in return.

Decades of energy development have increased pollution, and now with the worsening impacts of climate change, the future of these landscapes is in jeopardy.

The new proposed rule would ensure conservation of public lands is equal to other land uses. This more balanced approach to land management is critical to the lands’ long-term success. The agency also would be required to monitor the health and possible degradation of all of the lands it manages, not just those that allow grazing, which would ensure better care of water resources and wildlife habitat.

2. Promotes stronger collaboration with Tribal nations, local communities and other federal agencies

The Biden administration pledged to elevate and engage underrepresented communities to ensure that everyone feels welcomed in our public lands. The proposed rule supports this commitment, providing more opportunities for Tribal nations, communities and key stakeholders to shape the direction of land management activities.

Public lands sit on ancestral lands. These places hold thousands of years’ worth of Native American history and culture. The proposed rule would promote an inclusive conservation approach that includes co-stewardship and co-management with Tribal nations. It also would ensure the incorporation of Indigenous perspectives, values and knowledge, which for time immemorial have been critical in keeping the lands healthy and sustainable for future generations.

3. Protects healthy intact landscapes and safeguards our air, water and wildlife

Mining, oil and gas drilling, and other development on public lands can pollute the air and water, destroy fragile wildlife habitat, and jeopardize visitor experiences and safety. This creates a conflict with outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife watchers, history buffs and recreationists.

Bureau-managed lands are home to over 3,000 species, including pronghorn antelope, elk, mule deer, bears and mountain lions. But extraction activities like mining and oil and gas development fragment wildlife habitat connectivity by decreasing the acreage of intact lands and waters they have for moving across landscapes to feed, mate and seasonally migrate. Additionally, the streams, wetlands, lakes and rivers that flow through and originate in bureau-managed lands provide safe, clean drinking water for millions of people, as well as for activities like fishing and swimming. Encroaching development, pollution and climate change also threaten these waterways.

The proposed rule would better define for land managers what constitutes an “intact landscape” and ensure the bureau makes better decisions and understands the consequences of its decisions. This would potentially preserve millions of acres of critical wildlife habitat and better protect the air we breathe from industrial waste pollution.

4. Helps landscapes adapt to a changing climate

Climate change is altering our public lands at an alarming rate, causing dramatic shifts in wildlife habitat, deteriorating natural environments such as forests and wetlands, threatening historic structures and cultural artifacts, and leading to more extreme wildfires and hurricanes.

We are at a critical moment for climate action, and our public lands have a vital role to play in climate solutions. This proposal would ensure the bureau is able to respond to these pressures by prioritizing natural systems and rebalancing management practices through conservation. Protecting more natural spaces means we can continue to store and absorb the carbon dioxide that exacerbates the climate crisis. The proposed rule could help protect more acreage of public lands from development and deforestation — including lands and waters adjacent to national parks — and better protect these spaces for recreation, wildlife and ecosystems.

5. Creates an innovative conservation tool

The proposal would create a new system of leasing lands for mitigation and restoration. This tool would allow qualified individuals, Tribes, nonprofit groups and private organizations to lease bureau lands for restoration or other land enhancement projects such as habitat conservation. This could be a powerful instrument in helping conserve and restore lands that lack adequate federal funding. These leases could also help companies offset impacts from other land use authorizations by entering into mitigation leases. These leases could be especially useful for clean energy projects, thus helping our country transition to renewable energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuels more quickly.

Restoration and mitigation leases would not interfere with valid and existing uses and would continue to allow the public to have access to the lands for casual use, recreation and other compatible activities.

Rulemaking in the right direction

Our public lands and national parks are critical for conserving nature and protecting people’s ability to enjoy the landscapes. They’re places of exploration and inspiration. Under the bureau’s new proposed rule, we will be able to provide even more opportunities to preserve the great outdoors, while also addressing the damaging impacts of climate change on our public lands and communities.

As our country strives to solve the climate crisis, this rulemaking would push us in the right direction, proactively working to build healthier public lands and national park landscapes. Now is the time for action, and the bureau’s public lands rule is a necessary step.

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About the authors

  • Angela Gonzales Associate Director, Communications

    Angela joined NPCA in October 2017 and is an Associate Director of Communications. She currently manages outreach and communications for the Government Affairs team and Conservation Programs.

  • Kristen Brengel Senior Vice President of Government Affairs

    As the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Kristen Brengel leads staff on public lands conservation, natural and cultural resource issues, and park funding. Kristen is responsible for implementing our legislative strategies and working with the administration.

  • Matthew Kirby Senior Director, Energy and Landscape Conservation, Southwest

    Matt has spent the last decade running campaigns to protect the public lands he loves. Currently he oversees NPCA's work to protect parks and the landscapes that surround them from energy development.

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