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High Desert District
Release Date: 08/11/10
Contacts: John F. Ruhs,    
  High Desert District Manager    

National Environmental Policy Act and Land Use Planning

The Bureau of Land Management has one of the most challenging and complex missions of any federal agency:  to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Balanced stewardship of the National System of Public Lands provides citizens with many opportunities to enhance their quality of life. But how do we make decisions that balance cattle grazing, mineral development, prescribed fires and public recreation on your public lands? The delicate balancing act is accomplished through the National Environmental Policy Act - or NEPA. So what is NEPA?

NEPA is landmark legislation passed by Congress in 1969. The intent of NEPA is to create a decision-making framework for Federal agencies; ensuring agencies consider the environmental impacts of their actions and decisions. NEPA requires that Federal agencies use a systematic and interdisciplinary approach in analyzing potential impacts of their decisions. The Act also requires agencies to consider a reasonable range of alternatives in making decisions. NEPA is only required for Federal actions, or actions where Federal funding is involved (such as State road construction using Federal funding).

NEPA also mandates that most decisions be made with public input, and that there be full and open public participation. NEPA regulations tell us that federal agencies will: “Encourage and facilitate public involvement in decisions which affect the quality of the human environment.” Public involvement is an important component of all of our planning actions in the BLM High Desert District. Initial public input is invited during ‘scoping’ and is the first opportunity for the public to learn about a proposed project or action and provide input.

There are additional opportunities for public comment at the draft and final stages of an environmental impact statement or following completion of an environmental assessment. Public comments are most helpful if the comments are specific. Comments such as “I don’t like the plan,” or “save our open spaces,” are not helpful or meaningful in the overall process. The regulations state that “comments on an environmental impact statement or on a proposed action shall be as specific as possible and may address either the adequacy of the statement or the merits of the alternatives discussed or both.” The most valuable comments are those that cite specific actions or impacts in the document and offer informed analysis of what is presented.
Here at the High Desert District, we recognize the value of the BLM land to the local, state, regional and national communities and work to help the public participate in decisions that impact public land. We try to keep the public informed through articles such as this one and others, public meetings, open houses and our website ( In addition, our specialists assigned to each project spend a considerable amount of time answering questions, gathering public input and helping increase public understanding of the projects they oversee.

There are three levels of analysis that a federal agency may undertake to comply with the law. These three levels include preparing a Categorical Exclusion (CX), an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

A CX is used for known actions that an agency determines do not have a significant impact on the environment. Some BLM examples include data inventory, surveying and mapping, emergency feeding of livestock or wildlife during severe winters or droughts, and mineral lease adjustments and transfers.

An EA determines the significance of the environmental effects of a proposed action. If no substantial effects on the environment are found after preparing the EA, the agency may develop a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). An EA may also be used as a screening document to determine if the agency needs to prepare an EIS.

The EIS is a detailed examination of potential environmental impacts resulting from a proposed action. Public officials make informed decisions about a proposed action and available reasonable alternatives based on the analysis provided in an EIS.

NEPA is not solely about environmental preservation - it is about sustainability, quality of life, and balancing the short term needs of the American people with the long-term environmental conservation objectives, resulting in better, more informed decisions.

In the case of a Resource Management Plan (RMP), it is important for the public to understand that the RMP is a broad planning document – not designed to give site-specific details, rather the overall management direction for the coming years. The direction spelled out in the preferred alternative aims to strike a balance between conserving resources and making resources available for use. This is the challenge of BLM’s multiple use mandate - to balance the many interests of land use and users. Our obligations under NEPA require us to “promote the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without undesirable and unintended consequences.”

Site-specific decisions are made under NEPA for every project we conduct in the High Desert District Office. The public’s involvement is just as important at the site-specific level, and we continue to encourage and solicit input into BLM’s challenging planning decisions.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

High Desert District   280 Highway 191 North      Rock Springs, WY 82901  

Last updated: 08-11-2010