For Immediate Release, July 5, 2023
Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894, firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Public Lands Rule Should Strengthen Protections for Wildlife, Waters, Climate
WASHINGTON— People submitted tens of thousands of comments to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management by today’s deadline on the agency’s long-awaited conservation rule governing 245 million acres of public lands. The Center for Biological Diversity’s comments generally support the new proposed rule but urge the Biden administration to strengthen it to benefit wildlife, water and the climate.
“The BLM should have issued this rule right after the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act was passed in 1976. Our public lands, our rivers, and our climate would be in much better shape if they had,” said Randi Spivak, public lands policy director at the Center. “Given the amount of habitat destruction and industrialization of public lands we’ve seen over the past 47 years, it’s crucial for the BLM to move quickly toward stronger protections for the wildlife habitat that’s left and to restore what it can.”
The Center’s comments, submitted today, offer 10 recommendations to strengthen and clarify the rule. They include requiring local BLM offices to closely follow the new rule’s conservation emphasis when deciding, for example, whether to protect wildlife habitat from fracking in intact areas. Since its inception the BLM has used its “multiple use” mandate to favor industry over ecosystems.
The BLM oversees more land than any other federal agency. From deserts and rivers to forests and wetlands, these irreplaceable public lands provide habitat for 2,700 sensitive wildlife species. More than 300 of those are threatened or endangered wildlife, fish and plants, including grizzly bears, California condors, black-footed ferrets, northern spotted owls and southwestern willow flycatchers. Populations are declining for most of the imperiled species dependent on public lands.
“The BLM didn’t earn its nickname for nothing,” said Spivak. “For more than 40 years the Bureau of Livestock and Mining has catered to the fossil fuel, mining, logging and livestock industries over its legal duty to protect wildlife and healthy ecosystems. Finally it’s proposing a rule that puts conservation back at the center of its mission. But the rule needs to be significantly strengthened to safeguard intact lands, animals and watersheds. There are a lot of loopholes that need to be closed.”
For example, the proposed rule says a field manager may consider whether to increase protection for certain lands by designating them as an “area of critical environmental concern,” but does not require this even if the lands meet the BLM’s eligibility criteria.
The vast majority of BLM lands are open to extractive industries. Only 14%, or 35 million acres, of BLM lands are managed explicitly to conserve their natural and cultural resources. America’s public lands are under tremendous new pressures from increased mining and industrial-scale renewable energy and transmission lines, in addition to ongoing fossil fuel development, logging and livestock grazing.
The agency will now consider the public comments and plans to finalize the rule next year.
“The BLM has always had a duty to protect wildlife, watersheds and cultural resources for this and future generations. They just haven’t done their duty,” said Spivak. “To help address the extinction and climate crises, the final rule has to be stronger.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.