Clarification and Interim Guidance for Consideration of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern Designations in Resource Management Plans and Amendments
1849 C St NW # 5665
Washington, DC 20240
The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to provide interim guidance on prioritizing the designation and protection of areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC) through the land use planning process. This is in accordance with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), which requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to “give priority to the designation and protection of areas of critical environmental concern” in the development and revision of land use plans (43 USC 1712(c)(3)). This IM revises and clarifies existing policy and procedures for the designation of ACECs to ensure that the BLM considers public lands and resources for conservation, where appropriate. This guidance also clarifies annual ACEC status reporting requirements. This guidance applies to the development, amendment, and revision of Resource Management Plans (RMPs) consistent with direction in FLPMA and applicable regulations.
 This IM is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.
Designation and management of ACECs advance the multiple use and sustained yield goals in FLPMA. ACEC Manual 1613 (MS-1613, rel. 1-1541) is under revision. Until the revised manual is published, the following policy clarifications and guidance are to be used, in conjunction with applicable law, regulation, and the existing MS-1613 policy, to guide the designation and management of ACECs.
BLM state offices should ensure that inventories used to obtain information and data on the relevance and importance of values, resources, systems or processes, and natural hazards (MS-1613.21(B)) are kept current consistent with section 201(a) of FLPMA “so as to reflect changes in conditions and to identify new and emerging resource and other values” (43 USC 1711(a)). Inventories and subsequent monitoring should be performed and updated on intervals appropriate to the resource value sensitivity to ensure data are available to identify trends and emerging issues during the plan evaluations that occur every 5 years (43 CFR 1610.4-9; MS-1613.63; Handbook-1601-1, Land Use Planning, rel. 1-1693). State offices should consider whether there have been rapid changes to the subject landscapes, such as from drought or wildland fire, when determining what is an “appropriate interval.”
Relevance and Importance
BLM regulations direct evaluation of criteria for relevance and importance when considering whether to designate an area as an ACEC (43 CFR 1610.7-2(a)). When a BLM state office considers whether values are found to meet the criteria for relevance and importance (MS-1613.21(B)(1)-(5)), it should, to the extent consistent with applicable law and regulation, evaluate whether relevant values contribute to landscape intactness, climate resiliency, habitat connectivity, or opportunities for conservation or restoration, or have substantial significance to Tribes or Alaska Native Corporations, as defined in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), in a way that may support Tribal co-stewardship or traditional and customary uses.
Special Management Attention
The BLM must also evaluate the need for special management attention to protect relevant and important values when considering whether to designate an area as an ACEC (MS-1613.11). Where the authorized officer finds that an area meets the criteria for relevance and importance and determines that special management attention may be needed but a planning process governing that area is not underway or imminent, the authorized officer has discretion to provide temporary management and implementation actions to protect values in that area, as long as the actions are consistent with applicable law, regulation, and the approved RMP, until an evaluation can be completed during planning (MS-1613.21(E)). Upon starting the development, revision, or amendment of an RMP for which designation of ACECs is within the scope of the amendment, all areas in the planning area that have relevant and important values and may require special management attention must be considered for potential designation as an ACEC. If, during a planning process, the authorized officer finds that the criteria for relevant and important values are met but determines that special management is unnecessary (or, for existing ACECs, no longer necessary) to protect those values, then the authorized officer will ensure the contemporaneous decision file contains appropriate justification for the determination and is appropriately considered through the accompanying National Environmental Policy Act analysis.
This justification will be provided to the Assistant Director for Resources and Planning
(HQ-200) prior to the completion of the planning process. Documentation will address how the relevant and important values are otherwise protected.
Federal Register Notification
If a Draft RMP, Draft RMP Revision, or Draft RMP Amendment involves ACECs, BLM regulations require state directors to publish a notice in the Federal Register listing “each ACEC proposed and specifying the resource use limitations, if any, which would occur if it were formally designated” (43 CFR 1610.7-2(b); MS-1613.32). State offices should include in the description of each ACEC proposed in the notice, whether the designation of the ACEC and subsequent management prescriptions would provide for conservation or restoration opportunities, or the opportunity to advance Tribal co-stewardship or traditional and customary uses.
State directors are required to provide annual status reports on ACECs (MS-1613.65). These reports provide “for each ACEC: name of the ACEC; size (in hectares and acres); date of designation; identification of applicable land use plan; relevant and important values being protected; implementation actions accomplished during the previous fiscal year; whether or not an activity plan is deemed necessary and, if so, whether or not it has been prepared; and scheduled implementation measures for the ensuing fiscal year.” States should deliver these reports to the Assistant Director for Resources and Planning (HQ-200) via the Land Use Planning Program Lead by the deadline established in MS-1613.65 of October 15 of each year. To facilitate submission, the Division of Decision Support, Planning, and NEPA has developed an online submission portal located on the ACEC SharePoint page. States are to use the ACEC Annual Status Report Template provided on this same SharePoint page for compiling the reports to upload.
This IM is effective immediately.
This clarification of BLM ACEC policy is expected to have no significant impacts on project budgets.
FLPMA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to manage the public lands for multiple use and sustained yield, except as otherwise provided by law. The BLM exercises the Secretary’s authority to manage the public lands, including land use planning.
Section 202(c)(3) of FLPMA directs the Secretary and the BLM to “give priority to the designation and protection of areas of critical environmental concern” in the development and revision of land use plans (43 USC 1712(c)(3)). The BLM will consider ACEC nominations, including those from other agencies, Tribes and members of the public, during the development of new RMPs, revisions of existing RMPs, and amendments of existing RMPs if consideration of ACECs is within the scope of the amendment. During the planning process, the BLM determines whether an area contains resources, values, systems or processes, or hazards eligible for further consideration as a potential ACEC. A potential ACEC must meet the relevance and importance criteria described in the BLM’s regulations (43 CFR 1610.7-2) and MS-1613. Through the land use planning process, the BLM also re-evaluates previously designated ACECs for their continuing relevance and importance, and whether existing management prescriptions are adequate or necessary to protect the resources, values, systems or processes, or hazards for which the ACEC was originally designated. During the evaluation of new or existing ACECs, consideration of opportunities for Tribal co-stewardship is strongly recommended.
As MS-1613 provides, when considering a potential ACEC through the planning process, the BLM must evaluate the ACEC designation in at least one plan alternative. As the ACEC manual further explains, management prescriptions will generally vary across the alternatives analyzed through the land use planning and NEPA process—from “no special management attention” to “intensive special management attention.” To be designated as an ACEC, an area must require special management attention to protect the relevant and important values supporting designation.
Manual Section 1613- Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, rel 1-1541.
For further information or if you have questions, please contact Panchita Paulete, Land Use Planning Program Lead in the Division of Decision Support, Planning, and NEPA (HQ-210) at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 683-6976.
The policy was coordinated with the HQ-230, the BLM Resource and Minerals Committee, and state offices.