July 10, 2023
A proposed Bureau of Land Management public lands rule would emphasize ecosystem protection and restoration efforts. Leaders from multiple grazing industry trade associations say it unfairly prioritizes conservation at the expense of other priorities.
Last week, the Public Lands Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association submitted a letter calling on the BLM to rescind the proposal. The letter was also co-signed by a coalition of more than 50 other state and national trade associations.
In addition to concerns about how the rule will affect producers, the trade organizations are upset the BLM did not consult with them when drafting the rule. Public Lands Council P resident Mark Roeber argues that if the BLM was serious about lasting conservation, it would have talked to his group first and not forged ahead blindly what what he considers a “universally controversial rule” that will ultimately harm western states and the national economy.
“Public lands ranchers lead conservation across the West,” Roeber says. “Our cattle and sheep are the tools we use to feed this country and protect these landscapes. We are committed to protecting these lands and the legacies we have built on them, especially when it means working to oppose government efforts that will cause more harm than good.”
Per the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the BLM is required to manage public lands for multiple uses including recreation, energy and agricultural production. According to BLM officials, new rules are needed to better manager public lands in the face of increasing wildfires, droughts and storms across the West. Among other provisions, the rule would promote landscape restoration efforts and conservation leasing effort.
“Our public lands provide so many benefits – clean water, wildlife habitat, food, energy and lifetime memories, to name just a few – and it’s our job to ensure the same for future generations,” BLM director Tracy Stone-Manning said on March 30 when the proposed rule was announced. “As pressure on our public lands continues to grow, the proposed public lands rule provides a path for the BLM to better focus on the health of the landscape, ensuring that our decisions leave our public lands as good or better off than we found them.”
While BLM officials say the rule is need to put conservation on equal footing with other interests, the trade organizations contend it will unfairly emphasize conservation. The associations also argue in their letter that BLM does have the authority to issue a rule of this magnitude. According to them, it cannot be enacted without additional analysis and congressional approval.
National Cattleman’s Beef Association President Todd Wilkinson says the rule is a threat to the cattle industry and especially concerning to producers with federal grazing permits for public lands in western states.
“Public lands grazing provides valuable conservation and food security benefits, and this proposal opens the door to removing grazing entirely,” Wilkinson says. “We strongly urge the BLM to heed our calls to follow the law, withdraw their proposed rule, and work with cattle producers who have conserved these lands for generations.”
Where the rule goes from here remains uncertain. Since April, BLM has been soliciting feedback on the rule. Now that the feedback period has ended, BLM will presumably consider changes and announce its next move later this year.
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