Biden’s BLM Just Changed How Public Land is Managed



Despite outcry, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just passed a controversial new rule that will put environmentalism on equal footing with traditional public land uses such as ranching, timber, recreation, and drilling. The rule constitutes a major change in how BLM manages 245 million acres of federal land — roughly one-tenth of the country.

In what some are calling a “land grab,” this rule will allow the BLM to auction off land leases to environmental groups. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 tasked the agency with overseeing “multiple uses” of public land. These uses were explicitly directed by Congress and include recreation, mining, timber, energy, and grazing. Now, the bureau is seeking to add a new use without Congressional authorization, placing environmental priorities in competition with approved land uses by mere bureaucratic dictate.

Ranchers who graze cattle on BLM land may now be required to pay for mitigation leases to offset alleged damage caused by their livestock. In order to obtain a grazing permit, for example, a rancher may now be forced to work with a local environmental group and pay for additional mitigation leases on specific bird habitat.

“It is extremely concerning that this rule makes serious additions to the leasing structure for federal lands without authorization or direction from Congress,” said Mark Eisele, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), in a statement.

Mark Roeber, president of the Public Lands Council, said the rule threatens ranchers’ way of life. “The timing of this rule disenfranchises permittees who are working to be good partners and engage in other conservation efforts by increasing uncertainty and liability from extremists who only want to bully livestock producers off of working landscapes.”

Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) announced he will introduce legislation to repeal the BLM rule under the Congressional Review Act, saying, “With this rule, President Biden is allowing federal bureaucrats to destroy our way of life.”

The Congressional Review Act allows legislators to overturn bureau regulations with a simple majority vote. Proponents of the BLM rule, however, say it is likely to survive this challenge. Legislation introduced by Senator Barrasso last year to kill the BLM rule has not been advanced, despite co-sponsorship from nine other senators. Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon raised questions about the ruling from a constitutional perspective.

During a Washington Post Live event, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said this ruling will help address climate change. “Every land manager will tell you that climate change is already happening. It’s already impacting our public lands,” she said. “We see it in pretty obvious ways, through unprecedented wildfires.

Many land managers, however, say the wildfires of recent years are due to a lack of land management and grazing. In California alone, cattle grazing removes 12 billion pounds of biomass from the landscape every year, constituting the state’s largest fire fuel removal service. Opponents of the ruling argue that barring grazing on public lands will lead to a fuel buildup and more wildfires.

Energy groups already say they are planning to challenge the rule in court.

“We have no choice but to litigate,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told The Washington Post. “These conservation leases seem to be designed to preclude energy development on federal lands.”

Under President Donald Trump, BLM headquarters were moved out of Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado, a move which prompted 87% of affected employees to resign or retire in protest. The decision was immediately overturned by President Biden’s administration. President Trump’s BLM head was William Perry Pendley, a conservative lawyer who prioritized resource development, particularly in the energy sector.

The new BLM policy will go into full effect in about 30 days. Original versions of the rule used the term “conservation leases.” This terminology has been replaced with “restoration leases” and “mitigation leases.” The final rule also added language to clarify that “leases cannot be held by foreign persons.”

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