After outcry from Western constituencies and their representatives in Congress, the Bureau of Land Management has extended the public comment period on its proposed public lands rule that threatens to upend those Americans’ way of life.
The new rule proposed in March establishes a framework for “conservation leases” elevated over other uses such as mining, grazing, and gas development. The agency guidelines, which were created without a congressional vote, would implement a radical departure from the “multiple use mandate” outlined by Congress in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
The multiple use mandate requires the BLM, which presides over 245 million acres, primarily in the West, to make lands available for a wide variety of uses for maximum benefit. Conservation leases are poised to choke off millions of acres from those uses.
In the agency’s tour promoting the proposed public lands rule, federal officials ignored red state constituents and planned meetings in urban city centers far away from the ranchers most likely to be impacted. Out of the five hearings scheduled on the new rule, just three were in person: in Denver, Albuquerque, and Reno.
Republicans on Capitol Hill demanded the agency not only extend the public comment period, but also hold meetings closer to those whom the new rules would directly hit — such as ranchers whose livestock graze on public land.
“The administration’s proposal will have considerable implications, fundamentally changing the way the BLM carries out its multiple use and sustained yield mandate under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLMPA),” wrote Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee to the Interior Department last month. “Given the potentially significant impacts of the proposed rule, stakeholders and the public should be afforded additional time to consider and provide feedback on the proposed changes.”
On Thursday, the bureau announced federal officials will continue taking public comments for an additional 15 days until July 5. The 15-day extension falls 60 days short of the full 75 days called for by House Republicans.
Republicans Governors Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Mark Gordon of Wyoming railed against the BLM measure at a House hearing last week. Gordon, nearly half of whose state is owned by the federal government, called the framework on conservation leases “boneheaded.”
House lawmakers also heard from a panel of witnesses who raised concerns about the BLM guidelines jeopardizing opportunities for true conservation.
“Agriculture is conservation,” said Nevada Director of Agriculture J.J. Goicoechea. “If grazing is [removed] from these landscapes, ranches will go under, landscapes will be taken over by invasive species and will burn. Wildlife will suffer and multiple use will become impossible.”
In a statement to The Federalist, House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas called BLM’s 15-day extension “lip service” to constituents in Western states “who deserve far more from the BLM.”
“Given the level of resounding opposition we heard at our hearing last Thursday and for weeks prior, extending a comment period by only 15 days does not even begin to address our concerns,” Westerman said. “Our letter asking for a 75-day extension has gone unanswered and the BLM evaded our questions about holding any further listening sessions.”
While the bureau put more days on the public comment calendar, the administration still has published no plans to hold additional meetings with key stakeholders in red state areas.
The new rules appear to come straight from the college playbook of BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, whose 2021 confirmation was controversial thanks to her history as an ecoterrorist. Stone-Manning’s 1992 graduate thesis condemned grazing on public lands and promoted a Chinese-style child cap.