The BLM is considering changes to update its planning process. Image: USFWS-Mountain-Prairie Region
Fish, mule deer, pronghorn and greater sage-grouse don’t know – or care -- when they’ve crossed a state line or the boundary of the neighboring Bureau of Land Management field office.
The places they eat and sleep and where they roam or swim are determined by geography, centuries-old migration patterns and available food and water sources -- not arbitrary lines on a map or organizational chart.
Yet, those maps and charts often drive decisions on public-lands management, with huge and lasting impacts on fish and wildlife. The impacts ripple out, affecting hunters and anglers, wildlife watchers and everyone who appreciates the spectacular diversity of the natural world.
The decisions the BLM makes about the use of public lands in the West, where deer and pronghorn herds have to navigate highways, fences and other obstacles, are crucial to maintaining viable fish and wildlife habitat. The agency manages 245 million acres, primarily in 12 Western states where much of the livestock grazing, drilling, mining and recreation take place on public lands.
That’s why the National Wildlife Federation and its partners in the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition -- Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership -- welcome proposed changes to the BLM’s planning process. The changes recognize that what happens just over the border in Colorado can affect elk and mule deer herds migrating back and forth to New Mexico. Or that a natural gas operation on public land in western Wyoming can have consequences for fish miles downstream.
The proposals in the BLM’s Planning 2.0 initiative encourages staffers to take a landscape-scale view when writing new management plans. BLM planners, using the best science, would have the flexibility to consider a broader landscape when assessing the impacts on migrating wildlife and such challenges as threats from wildfires and invasive species, said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director.
“The federal government doesn’t own these lands. You own these lands,” Jim Lyons, a deputy assistant Interior Department secretary said during a recent public meeting on the proposed changes.
With that in mind, the BLM has proposed earlier and more frequent chances for public involvement. The proposed rules call for taking input from the public and sharing information and findings in more detail than currently happens.
Members of the public could offer data or suggest items that should be part of the BLM’s initial analysis. The BLM would share proposed management scenarios and the rationale for choosing them, creating new opportunities for the public to weigh in before the draft environmental impact statement is issued.
“It is important to keep the public in public land management, and that is what Planning 2.0 seeks to do,” said Corey Fisher, senior policy director for Trout Unlimited sportsmen’s conservation Project.
Keeping the discussion public is something you’d expect state and local governments to support. One of the arguments by proponents of state-takeover of public lands is the need for more local input. But it must depend on which public you’re talking about. A handful of Western counties and conservation districts have complained that opening up the BLM planning process will dilute their comments and opinions. They believe their official roles as “cooperating agencies” would be marginalized.
In fact, the proposed changes would not diminish public agencies’ input. The agencies, under the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976, would still get to provide “meaningful involvement” and advice to the BLM. The BLM would still be required to make its plans as consistent as possible with state and local plans. State, county and other officials would still have access to federal planners the general public does not.
The Planning 2.0 initiative should allow the BLM to better manage for important resources like fish and wildlife and activities like hunting and fishing while enabling stakeholders to find common ground, said Joel Webster, director of the Center for Western Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.