Public Lands Rule
The Public Lands Rule would establish a framework to ensure healthy landscapes, abundant wildlife habitat, clean water, and balanced decision-making on our nation’s public lands. It has been proposed at a pivotal moment, as our public lands face new and growing challenges.
Climate change is driving unprecedented drought and increasingly intense fires, a loss of wildlife, and an influx of invasive species. At the same time, public lands face growing pressures as recreation increases and development on private land disrupts habitat.
The Rule would ensure that the BLM is able to respond to these pressures, managing for healthy lands today so that it can deliver its multiple use mission now and in the future -- to ensure the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
By putting conservation on an equal footing with other uses, the Rule would help deliver the promise of sustained yield, while safeguarding important places for the millions of people who visit public lands every year to hike, hunt, camp, fish, and more.
The Public Lands Rule would establish the policy BLM needs to build and maintain the resilience of public lands in three primary ways:
- protecting the most intact, functioning landscapes,
- restoring degraded habitat and ecosystems, and
- making wise management decisions based on science and data across all plans and programs.
We've been busy ...
The proposed Public Lands Rule was published in the Federal Register on April 3, 2023, for a 90-day public comment period, the longest comment period on a rulemaking in recent history. The BLM received an initial total of 216,403 comments from Tribes, state and local governments, industry groups, advocacy organizations, and members of the public through regulations.gov.
Among these submissions were over 8,000 unique, substantive comments, which reveal Americans’ deep commitment to their public lands. We’ve been carefully reviewing and considering these comments.
The BLM is making changes, as appropriate, to the proposed rule based on these comments and additional internal review. As the proposed rule is finalized, the BLM remains committed to working with its partners and stakeholders in clearly implementing it. We expect to publish the Final Public Lands Rule later this winter.
- Can I give a comment on the Rule?
The Public Lands Rule comment period is now closed, but you can view the comments submitted on the rule on the Federal e-rulemaking portal (http://www.regulations.gov) (search Docket ID: BLM-2023-0001).
- What does the BLM do with the comments it receives?
The BLM reviewed all comments that were submitted on the proposed rule during the comment period. Comment letters are read to identify substantive comments, and substantive comments are considered in drafting the final regulation text.
Substantive comments do one of the following:
- suggest specific changes or revisions to the language in the proposed rule;
- question, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of information in the proposed rule;
- question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of, methodology for, or assumptions used for the proposed rule; or
- present new information relevant to the rulemaking.
- How can I see what happened with my comment?
Unlike the typical environmental impact statement, rulemaking does not require specific responses to individual comment letters. Comment letters are reviewed for substantive comments, which are then grouped into major themes that receive a written response in the preamble of the final rule. You will see how the BLM responded to substantive comment themes in Section IV, Response to Comments, in the Preamble of the Final Rule.
There are no planned informational meetings scheduled at this time. You are welcome to view a recording of the virtual meeting presented on May 15, 2023 to learn more about the Public Lands Rule.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What would the proposed Public Lands Rule do?
1. Promote restoration of our lands and waters.
- Consistent with the historic investments made through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the proposal would direct land managers to identify landscapes and develop plans for restoration, prioritizing places based on land and water health, partnership opportunities, and benefits to local communities, among other factors, with opportunities for public input.
- The proposal would establish consistent frameworks for interested parties to pursue restoration on public lands, including through conservation leasing. Under a conservation lease, an external entity could propose to enter into an agreement with the BLM to help achieve restoration or mitigation outcomes on public lands. For example, a non-profit organization could put people to work restoring mule deer or elk habitat and, through a conservation lease, be assured the work could take hold and flourish. The proposal does not contemplate BLM requiring leasing; rather, it is something an outside entity would request.
- Conservation leasing is also an important tool for compensatory mitigation, which compensates the public for the impacts of development on public land through investments in restoration and other mitigation measures. The conservation leasing provisions in the proposal come, in part, in response to feedback from state, local, and industry partners who requested a reliable path to pursue compensatory mitigation on public lands to facilitate development projects.
2. Provide for balanced, responsible development.
- To support informed decision-making, the proposal would broaden the use of land health standards beyond BLM’s grazing program while providing more information as the public weighs in on management decisions. Incorporating land health standards and guidelines into land management is a best practice employed by state and federal land management agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service.
- By using land health assessments and building conservation decisions into the land management process, the proposal would enable the BLM to better work with local communities and developers to identify appropriate places to site projects and deconflict development proposals.
- The proposal would ensure BLM management decisions continue to be guided by science and data.The BLM would use existing data collections and new information to identify trends and implement adaptive management strategies.
3. Conserve the best intact, healthy landscapes.
- The proposal is pragmatic, directing the BLM to conserve what’s already in good shape. It would call on the BLM to maintain intact lands to help support wildlife, migration corridors, and ecosystem function. The proposal follows explicit direction in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to protect and preserve lands in their natural condition, where appropriate.
- The proposal would support President Biden’s vision for locally driven and locally led conservation, enabling communities, through the land management planning process, to help identify lands for restoration and protection and to provide input on where development may be appropriate.
- The proposal would provide consistent and clear direction to ensure BLM is appropriately managing important historic, cultural, and scenic resources and complying with FLPMA’s direction to prioritize protection and designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.
- What would the proposed rule not do?
The proposal does not change the BLM’s multiple use mission – indeed, it would ensure the BLM’s ability to deliver it in the future. Energy development, mining, grazing, timber, outdoor recreation, and other uses will continue. The proposal does not undermine any existing valid rights or require the use of conservation leasing. The proposal does not impede development on public lands. It would help facilitate responsible development through informed planning that deconflicts uses, while providing a path for developers to pursue compensatory mitigation. The proposal would not change the existing land management planning process; rather, it would create more opportunity and tools for local communities to shape the management of their public lands.
- How would the proposed rule ensure the health and resilience of public lands?
The BLM will conserve intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat and balance responsible development decisions based on science and data. The BLM already does this under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and under policy and guidance that encourages programs to implement conservation and ecosystem management.
However, the BLM does not currently have regulations that directly promote conservation efforts for all resources. The proposed rule is intended to address this gap in the Bureau’s regulations and to codify some of the existing tools and resources into regulation, so that conservation is applied more broadly across the landscape to all program areas.
- How does the rule incorporate conservation?
The proposed rule would put conservation – both protection and restoration – on an equal footing with other uses consistent with the plain language of FLPMA. The proposed rule defines conservation to include both protection and restoration.
- How would this rule uphold the law?
The BLM’s role in managing for ecosystem resilience and conservation stems from Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the BLM’s organic act, which directs the BLM to preserve and protect public lands in their natural condition when appropriate. The Public Lands Rule simply provides direction for how the agency could do just that.
FLPMA expressly states that public lands should be managed to protect environmental and water resources, fish and wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation, among other values, all of which benefit from the conservation of intact habitat and the restoration of degraded lands. FLPMA also requires the BLM to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation; the proposed rule includes additional tools to help meet this congressional mandate.
This proposed rule would allow the BLM to better fulfill its mission, ensuring public lands continue to be accessible and productive for future generations, and provide tools and processes to enable management decisions based on science and data.
- Does the proposed rule seek to change existing laws or create new ones?
No. In addition to carrying out the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the BLM currently manages public lands in compliance with numerous laws and policies that may apply to different uses, such as the Taylor Grazing Act and the Mineral Leasing Act. The proposed Public Lands Rule would not change that or create new laws; it is consistent with the current laws that apply to BLM’s management of public lands.
- How would this rule affect development of public lands?
This proposed rule would provide additional tools the BLM could use to fulfill its multiple use and sustained yield mission. The rule would help guide responsible and balanced development of critical minerals, energy, and other resources. It would not prohibit land uses that impair landscape health and resilience; rather, it would require that the project avoid impairment and an explanation if and when such impairment could not be avoided.
The proposed rule would also help facilitate responsible development by providing specific tools to authorize appropriately tailored and durable compensatory mitigation. The conservation leasing tool proposed in the rule responds, in part, to comments from state and industry partners on the need for a reliable path to pursue compensatory mitigation on public lands to facilitate development projects.
The BLM’s ability to manage for multiple use and sustained yield of public lands depends on the resilience of ecosystems across those lands. The proposed rule would provide consistent direction to local land managers on how to manage for resilient, healthy, landscapes through conservation of intact habitats and informed decision-making in management plans and permits.
- What are conservation leases?
A conservation lease is a land use authorization that the BLM can issue to an external entity to help achieve restoration or mitigation outcomes on public lands. The proposed rule treats it as a tool, not a requirement. The conservation lease would be proposed by a third-party and the BLM has discretion to decide whether and how a lease would be an appropriate tool to achieve restoration or mitigation. This part of the proposed rule responds to external feedback from states, developers, and other stakeholders to codify a path for durable restoration and mitigation efforts on public lands.
As described in the proposed rule, conservation leases would:
- Support sustained yield through “restoration or land enhancement” or “mitigation” uses,
- Be consistent with, and not override, valid existing rights,
- Require land management to protect the goals of the leases but not interfere with casual use or other consistent uses,
- Be applied for, granted, suspended, or terminated in processes similar to those employed under BLM’s current regulations for issuing leases, permits and easements (43 C.F.R. 2920)
The BLM is seeking feedback on the specific nature of the conservation leasing rules proposed.
- Has BLM ever used conservation leasing before?
While the name conservation leasing is new, the tool and the goals it achieves are not. In the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, the BLM allows use of its National Conservation Lands to satisfy California Department of Fish and Wildlife compensatory mitigation requirements.
- How would this proposed rule affect BLM’s ACEC designation process?
FLPMA requires BLM to prioritize the designation and protection of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in land use plans. ACECs are a tool to protect historic, cultural and scenic resources. The proposed rule would not make any major changes to BLM’s existing practices in identifying and managing ACECs; rather it would provide consistent and clear direction on their use. The BLM currently inventories, evaluates, and designates ACECs requiring special management direction as part of the land use planning process. As part of this rulemaking, the BLM proposes establishing procedures that ensure consideration of ecosystem resilience, including intact landscapes and habitat connectivity, in designating and managing ACECs.
In more than 40 years of applying ACEC designations, the BLM has identified several needed revisions. Additionally, the BLM’s procedures for considering and designating potential ACECs are currently described partially in regulation and partially in agency policy. The proposed rule would codify these procedures in regulation, providing more cohesive direction and consistency to the agency’s ACEC designation process.
- Why is the BLM proposing this rule now?
As we welcome record numbers of visitors to BLM’s public lands to hunt, fish, hike, and recreate, we want to ensure that these lands are healthy and resilient for the generations to come. Furthermore, the BLM is more and more challenged to balance multiple use and sustained yield in the face of a changing climate, as well as increasing degradation and fragmentation of public lands.
For example, a recent report, A Sagebrush Conservation Design to Proactively Restore America’s Sagebrush Biome, demonstrated that up to 73 percent of the threats to the sagebrush biome area result from a loss of intactness and impacts from climate change. Roughly 1.3 million acres of sagebrush are degraded annually. The good news is that quality land is still available and can be kept that way through continued wise management, and degraded lands can be restored using tools included in this new proposed rule.