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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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."