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BLM proposes rule to allow land leasing for conservation

A mountain meadow filled with green bushes, grasses, and trees in Wyoming. The sky is partly cloudy.
Rachel Woita
Bureau of Land Management
The two-mile Poison Creek Trail area in north-central Wyoming is an example of public lands in the West managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Bureau of Land Management recently proposed an overhaul to the way it manages federal public lands that would elevate conservation as pressure on Western rangelands mounts.

The BLM oversees 245 million acres, nearly all of which are spread across the Western U.S. Since 1976, through the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the agency has been charged by Congress to manage these public lands for multiple uses.

For decades, however, the BLM has favored land uses that benefit industry, such as mining, grazing, and oil and gas drilling. At the same time, impacts from drought, wildfires and expanded recreation have grown

The proposed Public Lands Rule would give conservation projects equal footing as the agency seeks to better balance land uses. This could include work to remove invasive species or restore migration routes that wildlife like deer and elk rely on, according to the BLM.

Ken Rait, project director of U.S. public lands and rivers conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts, said leasing lands for conservation is an opportunity for the BLM to finally “get it right.”

“We are facing the twin crises of the loss of biological diversity and climate change, and so, it's important for us to have conservation as part of the equation in how our public lands are used,” he said.

Rait adds that an estimated 6,000 acres of open space are lost to other land uses every day in the U.S., citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture statistic.

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

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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