Considering Backcountry Conservation Management in Land Use Planning Efforts

IM 2017-036
Instruction Memorandum

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20240-0036

January 19, 2017


In Reply Refer To:

1610, 1110, 1120, 8320, (210, 230, 250) P 


Instruction Memorandum No. 2017-036                   

Expires:  09/30/2020

To:                   All Washington Office and Field Office Officials

From:               Assistant Director, Resources and Planning

Subject:           Considering Backcountry Conservation Management in Land Use Planning Efforts                                                                       

Program Area: Land Use Planning; Recreation and Visitor Services; Fish and Wildlife Conservation

Purpose: Based on public proposals in multiple land use planning efforts and consistent with multiple use and sustained yield, the BLM recognizes the value of protecting certain backcountry areas in order to preserve generally intact, undeveloped public lands that contain priority habitats for recreationally-important fish and wildlife species and that provide high-quality wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities afforded by those species. This Instruction Memorandum (IM) summarizes the criteria and process for considering management of these habitats and recreational opportunities through the application of land use planning components, including establishing backcountry conservation areas (BCAs), during the land use planning process.

Policy/Action: During a land use plan (LUP) revision or amendment effort, BLM offices may consider management for backcountry conservation those public lands that generally meet the criteria described in Attachment 1 - “Backcountry Conservation Management Criteria and Guidance.” BLM offices may consider both internal and external proposals for backcountry conservation. The criteria and guidance presented in Attachment 1 supplement existing guidance for designation of special recreation management areas (SRMAs), and should be used to determine areas appropriate for backcountry conservation. Circumstances unique to a specific planning area may be taken into consideration when applying the criteria.

A discussion of how the criteria have been met should be included in the NEPA analysis accompanying the revision or amendment. 

Consistent with 43 C.F.R. § 1610.1-2, LUP revisions or amendments that consider management for backcountry conservation must include the following plan components for each alternative, also discussed in Attachment 1:

Goal(s): For each geographic area, define a goal or goals that describe(s) the desired outcome for the priority habitat that supports recreationally-important fish and/or wildlife species. In addition, describe a goal(s) for the recreation opportunities associated with those species.

Fish/Wildlife Objective(s): For each geographic area under consideration, define specific, measurable, outcome-focused objectives that describe the desired habitat conditions for the recreationally-important fish and/or wildlife species. In developing these objectives, BLM should consider and, to the extent appropriate, incorporate the corresponding fish and wildlife objectives of the relevant state agencies.

Recreation Objective(s): Within those portions of each geographic area under consideration that can be compatibly managed for wildlife-dependent recreation, develop specific, measurable, outcome-focused objectives that define the recreation opportunities (i.e., activities, experiences and benefits derived from those experiences). The objective(s) should focus on protecting and enhancing high-quality wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities. Since some portions of the habitat within the backcountry area may be sensitive to human disturbance (e.g., calving or fawning habitat or cultural sites), it may not be appropriate to manage all portions of an area for enhanced recreation opportunities using the BCA designation.

Designations: Within those portions of each geographic area under consideration that can be compatibly-managed for wildlife dependent recreation and consistent with the related recreation and fish/wildlife objectives, use the Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) designation process to designate as Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCA) those areas that will be managed to maintain or enhance high-quality wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities.

Resource use determinations: Identify the resource use determinations, subject to valid existing rights, that support the goal(s), objective(s), and designation(s) of the areas under consideration for backcountry conservation. These may include, for example, stipulations on fluid and solid mineral leasing, right-of-way avoidance areas, off-highway vehicle area designations, livestock grazing decisions, and/or limitations on Special Recreation Permits (SRPs).

Land tenure decisions: Identify land tenure decisions (retention, acquisition, exchange) that support the backcountry conservation goal(s), objective(s), and designation(s).

Monitoring and evaluation standards: Identify indicators and intervals for monitoring and evaluation to ensure that the fish/wildlife and recreation objectives are being met.

For each geographic area being considered for backcountry conservation in a LUP revision or amendment, BLM offices must document the LUP components set forth above in chapter 2 when describing the proposed action and range of alternatives of the LUP.

LUP revision and amendment efforts that are already in progress as of the effective date of this IM and have already developed their preliminary range of alternatives may address backcountry conservation using an alternative approach to the one presented in this IM, ensuring compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. However, all LUP revision and amendment efforts that have not yet completed their public scoping efforts as of the effective date of this IM should conform to this IM in order to ensure consistency across BLM LUP efforts.

Timeframe: This guidance is effective immediately.

Budget Impact: During LUP revision and amendment efforts, BLM staff already consider areas for the protection of fish, wildlife, and recreational opportunities, with input provided by cooperating agencies and the public. However, consideration of backcountry conservation in the development of land use plans may add some complexity to the planning process and therefore may minimally affect planning budgets.

Manual/Handbook Sections Affected:  This guidance supplements existing guidance found in the BLM’s Land Use Planning Handbook, H-1610-1, Appendix C Sections I.E (Fish and Wildlife) and II.C (Recreation and Visitor Services). It also supplements guidance found in the BLM’s Planning for Recreation and Visitor Services Manual (MS-8320-1) and Recreation and Visitor Services Handbook (H-8320-1).

Coordination: This IM was developed by the Division of Decision Support, Planning and NEPA (WO-210); the Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation (WO-230); and the Division of Recreation and Visitor Services (WO-250).

Contact:  Please direct questions to one or more of the following Washington Office specialists:

  • Planning: Please direct questions regarding this policy to Leah Baker, Division Chief, Decision Support, Planning & NEPA (WO-210), at 202-912-7282 (, or Fariba Hamedani, Planning and Environmental Analyst (WO-212), at 202-912-7047 ( 
  • Recreation: Please direct questions regarding SRMA designations and other recreation related topics to Dorothy Morgan, Outdoor Recreation Planner (WO-250) at 202-912-7412 ( 
  • Fish & Wildlife: Please direct questions regarding planning for fish and wildlife habitat to Stephanie Carman, National Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Program Lead (WO-230) at 202-912-7169 (


Signed by:                                                       Authenticated by:

Kristin Bail                                                      Robert M. Williams

Assistant Director                                           Division of IT Policy and Planning,WO-870

Resources & Planning                                


1 Attachment

   1 - (Backcountry Conservation Management Criteria and Guidance) (6 pp)