Report Seeks New Vision for BLM Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, November 15, 2001 (ENS) - A new report by two conservation groups concludes that the Bureau of Land Management is failing to protect the long term health of America's public lands and the natural resources they support. The report suggests that programmatic and organizational changes are necessary to correct past mistakes and ensure sustainable future management of the more than 264 million acres of public lands under the agency's stewardship.

red rock

The BLM manages some of the nation's most spectacular landscapes, such as the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada (All photos courtesy BLM)
The report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sets the bar for performance by the next director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a position for which President George W. Bush has nominated Kathleen Clarke.

"The BLM manages more land than the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service combined," said NWF southwest regional vice president Susan Rieff. "If Kathleen Clarke is confirmed as its new director, her Congressionally mandated task will be as sweeping and important as the landscape she will manage - to guarantee the long-term stewardship of the public lands by transforming the policies and practices of the BLM."

"We hope the recommendations in this report can provide a guide for the new director and help chart a positive course for these biologically important lands," added Rieff.

Although it is less well known than other federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service, the BLM manages some of the most diverse and beautiful lands in the United States, including landscapes dominated by extensive grasslands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra and deserts.

mine

Mining has traditionally been a common use of BLM lands. This is the Golden Sunlight Mine in Montana
Sound management of these lands now requires that the BLM address challenges such as loss of keystone and endangered species, pollution of watersheds, and urban sprawl that were never envisioned when the organization was established 55 years ago.

But the agency's structure, budget, operations and culture remain rooted in an earlier era when the government's chief priorities for the public lands were disposal and exploitation.

"Among the most significant obstacles to meeting the public land conservation needs of the 21st century are the absence of an unequivocal conservation mandate and the resulting lack of a common vision, both internally and externally, for the agency," notes the report. "In striking contrast to national parks, national wildlife refuges, and even national forests, the public lands administered by the BLM have suffered from the lack of a clear conservation focus to govern their use and protection."

Extractive uses of public lands, such as coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and livestock grazing, continue to dominate the BLM's management of its lands, the report finds.

ORV damage

This BLM land in Utah has been damaged by irresponsible off-road vehicle use
"On the historic cattle ranges of Idaho and eastern Oregon, and indeed throughout the entire intermountain West, the livestock industry continues to dominate the political debate and agency decision making over use of the grasses and forbs found on public lands," the report states. "In high production states like Wyoming and New Mexico, the long term health of the land takes a back seat to accommodating industry requests for access to and development of these resources."

"The new BLM director will be faced with the difficult challenge of reconciling the administration's demands for increased energy production from the public lands with the urgent need to restore past environmental damage and to strengthen wildlife and watershed conservation on these same landscapes," said Rieff. "With these recommendations, we believe she can find a way to manage the public lands for the benefit of people and wildlife."

In June 2000, the BLM created the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) to help protect some of the nation's most remarkable landscapes. The NLCS includes the agency's national monuments, national conservation areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

BLM said the purpose of the system is to increase the public's awareness of and appreciation for these public lands, and to focus more management attention and resources on them. In particular, BLM's national conservation areas, most of which have existed for years, will receive greater management attention, as will the BLM managed national monuments created by President Bill Clinton's executive orders.

trona pinnacles

The entire 9.5 million acre California Desert Conservation Area, including the Trona Pinnacles, is included in the NLCS
The new report, while criticizing much of the BLM's past management practices, also offers some specific recommendations for strengthening conservation management of public lands in the future, including:

"All I ask of the BLM is that they make decisions worthy of the land that we entrust to them," said Craig D. Thompson, professor of engineering and environmental science and NWF board member. "This report voices the consistent and persistent concerns of millions of public land users and owners who urge the BLM to make sustainability the product and not merely the by word of public resource management."