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BLM’s Public Lands Rule – A win for the American West and Colorado

Clara Moulton

April marked a historic paradigm shift for the Bureau of Land Management with the enactment of the Public Lands Rule. The rule ensures the BLM’s multiple-use mission balances conservation, cultural resources protection, access to nature, wildlife, renewable energy and climate change with extraction across the West and Alaska. Given that nearly 40% of all U.S. public lands are overseen by the BLM, a whopping 245-plus million acres, this rule and its implementation will have far-reaching impacts on America’s public lands.

This decision was hard fought through a 90-day comment period, with five public hearings and hundreds of individual stakeholder meetings that resulted in more than 200,000 comments, 92% of which supported greater conservation. Hundreds of letters, editorials, op-eds and news stories advocating for the rule were generated while hundreds of meetings were held with members of Congress, local lawmakers and tribal leaders helping to lead every aspect of a diverse national campaign that organized communities across the West.

The BLM Public Lands Rule puts conservation on equal footing with extraction. Oil and gas development have long received preferential treatment on lands the BLM manages, including more than 8.3 million acres of surface and 27 million acres of minerals in Colorado. Finally, the nation’s largest land management agency will have the regulatory framework to prioritize conservation as a tool in the fight against climate change and the loss of nature. The rule will change the future of BLM planning and management, mandating the agency to consider and manage for resilient ecosystems, which includes identifying and protecting intact landscapes and applying land health standards. This is in stark contrast to the BLM’s previous management stance, which included an extraction above all else approach.

BLM lands are among the nation’s most iconic open areas in the West. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, access to BLM lands for recreational activities contributes about $11.4 billion to the national economy and outdoor recreation like mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, hunting, fishing, boating, hiking and wildlife watching on public lands creates 4.3 million jobs across the United States. This new agency guidance will create opportunities for people to engage and support decision-making about these lands and waters close to home.

According to Colorado College’s State of the Rockies poll, 82% of voters in the Rocky Mountain West support a national goal of conserving America’s lands and waters in the next decade. The Public Lands Rule will ensure the BLM has clear direction to support communities to build a sustainable future around our shared appreciation for public lands. But to ensure the rule is fully implemented and adopted by the agency, public lands supporters need to continue to voice their support.

The BLM now has the task of implementing the rule. This effort will require those of us who live adjacent to these lands and enjoy them every day to engage with the BLM to advocate for a balanced approach to management. Communities need to actively participate in BLM planning processes to encourage a greater focus on conservation by using the tools identified by the rule. We need to encourage the agency to live up to the BLM director’s description of what the rule will help the U.S. do – “protect the best, restoring the rest and make smart management decisions into the future.” I applaud the Biden administration for responsibly managing the public lands, human stories and wildlife that make the American West so unique and strongly urge that the Public Lands Rule be implemented before these cherished areas disappear.

Clara Moulton is the Colorado field specialist at The Wilderness Society. She lives in Mancos.