October 9, 2008

Contact: Chris Paolino, 202-208-6416
Jill Moran, 202-452-5068

Link to Federal Register Notice

BLM Announces New Rule for Land Withdrawals

The Bureau of Land Management will publish Friday, October 10 in the Federal Register a proposed rule to eliminate existing regulations providing for the emergency withdrawal of lands leaving in place the existing, more conventional withdrawal provisions that exempt BLM-managed lands from the operation of various public land laws. A 15-day public comment period on the regulatory proposal starts October 10.
 
Under Section 204(e) of the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act and current BLM regulations providing for emergency withdrawals, 43 CFR 2310.5, the Secretary of the Interior must withdraw lands immediately upon determining that an emergency exists and that extraordinary measures need to be taken to protect natural resources or resource values that otherwise would be lost. The statute and regulations also provide that the Secretary must follow the same course if a similar determination is made by either of two congressional committees specified in Section 204(e) and appropriate notification is made by that Committee to the Secretary. Since at least 1981, questions have been raised concerning the constitutionality of the Congressional Committee notification provision of Section 204(e). 
 
Because conventional land withdrawal procedures provide for immediate segregation of the subject lands for two years upon publication of a Federal Register notice, which must be within 30 days after a withdrawal application is received and immediately upon approval of a withdrawal petition, the BLM has noted in the past and continues to believe the emergency procedure to be unnecessary. Like a withdrawal, segregation removes the lands from the operation of the public land laws, including the mining laws. Contrary to its implication, the procedures for issuing an emergency withdrawal order do not result in the protection of public lands more rapidly than the completion of a more conventional withdrawal process. Conventional withdrawals of public lands, as necessary and appropriate, will continue. 
 
Under conventional withdrawal procedures, the BLM considers ownership and other legally recognized interests by allowing public participation in the decision-making process as well as coordination with other federal bureaus. “The BLM recognizes that unique circumstances may arise requiring the withdrawal of land from particular activities in order to preserve resources and values that need immediate protection,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell. “We remain committed to working closely with States, local governments, and other stakeholders in the timely withdrawal of land under such critical circumstances.”
 
By eliminating the emergency option from BLM regulations, the Bureau is removing a procedure that it views as not only redundant, but also a potential impediment to the resolution of the constitutional dispute. The action supports the BLM’s mission by allowing the agency to maintain its focus on effective management practices that support healthy and productive public lands. 
 
The BLM manages more land – 258 million acres – than any other Federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The Bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.
 
– BLM –