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Newly finalized BLM Public Lands Rule opens door to leases for restoration, mitigation

The Fisher Towers near Moab, Utah
Bob Wick
Bureau of Land Management
The Fisher Towers near Moab, Utah. Much of the surrounding area is BLM land.

The Bureau of Land Management has finalized a new Public Lands Rule to help guide decision-making on its 245 million acres.

The agency says the new rule puts conservation on equal footing with other uses of public lands, like ranching and mining. Among other changes, it creates a framework for so-called restoration and mitigation leases. Respectively, those would allow third parties to do restorative work on BLM land and offset the negative impacts of large projects like solar energy plants.

“Mitigation leases would, for the first time, create a clear and consistent mechanism for those investments to happen on BLM-managed public lands,” a BLM fact sheet on the rule reads. “They would be issued at the discretion of the BLM and must not conflict with valid existing rights or previously authorized uses.”

“It's especially important right now with public lands being under more pressure than ever before from climate change, with public lands being a core part of the energy transition,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, which has advocated for the rule.

He also highlighted its expansion of land health standards to all BLM land, not just grazing land.

Public comments on the proposed rule were overwhelmingly positive, but it has received criticism. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said the rule violates federal law, defies the will of Congress and would hurt rural communities that depend on oil and gas extraction. Her group plans to sue.

“The rule seeks to upend the balance that Congress and the Interior Department over many decades achieved on multiple-use public lands that are appropriate for productive uses such as energy, grazing, mining, and recreation,” she wrote in a statement. “This is a classic example of overreach by the Biden administration.”

More information on the rule, including a link to the final version, can be found 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, KUNC in Colorado and KANW 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.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.