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BLM’s proposal to elevate conservation gets pushback from Western conservatives

Sheep are commonly grazed on public lands throughout the Mountain West.
Bob Wick
Bureau of Land Management
Sheep are commonly grazed on public lands throughout the Mountain West.

News brief:

The Bureau of Land Management will extend the public comment period through July 5 on a proposal to elevate conservation on its lands. The announcement follows significant pushback from conservatives, energy companies and ranchers in the Mountain West, who worry the so-called Public Lands Rule would harm their interests and local communities.

Under the BLM’s proposal, conservation would be given equal footing to other land uses, including oil and gas drilling, mining, grazing and timber harvesting. Environmental groups would be allowed to lease federally owned parcels for preservation and habitat restoration.

Republicans in the West – where the BLM oversees 246 million acres of federal public lands – say these changes would undermine the industries that rely on those lands. Speaking during a recent U.S. House committee hearing, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said conservation is already a core tenet of management in the West.

“Simply put, if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” he said. “It pits productive uses of public lands against conservation – a gross mischaracterization of the concept.”

Republicans in western Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are also opposing the BLM’s proposed changes. So are some fossil fuel and agricultural interests. The U.S. House and Senate already have bills to nix it.

But many conservation and environmental groups are lauding the BLM’s proposal. They argue the rule does not impede on existing management activities, but is rather a much-needed update as federal parcels face new threats from climate change and population growth in the West.

"This is a very promising and complementary tool to support landscapes across my county and around the West,” said Kathy Chandler-Henry, chair of the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in central Colorado. “The proposed rule further establishes a guiding principle that [the] BLM manage for resiliency.”

The BLM had received nearly 150,000 public comments on the proposal as of Thursday. You can comment here or here.

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.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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