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Analysis: Most commenters favor BLM’s proposed public lands rule

Battle Creek in the BLM-managed Owyhee River Wilderness
Bureau of Land Management
Battle Creek in the BLM-managed Owyhee River Wilderness

The comment period for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed public lands rule ended last week, and tens of thousands took the time to weigh in.

Congress tasked the BLM with managing millions of acres of public land for a number of uses – like energy development, livestock grazing and recreation. The agency says the new rule would put conservation on equal footing with other uses. Among other measures, it would create conservation leases, a new tool that would allow applicants to carry out restoration or mitigation projects.

More than 216,000 people commented over the last three months.

“It was a stunningly large response,” said Deputy Director Aaron Weiss of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands advocacy group that supports the rule. “Considering this is, at the end of the day, a fairly technical rulemaking regarding how the Bureau of Land Management does its job in the West.”

The group analyzed a sizable, randomized selection of responses and found that over 90 percent of them supported the BLM proposal. The others were opposed, neutral or mixed.

Weiss says the message from most of those who commented was clear: They either want the rule to be adopted as proposed – or for the BLM “to strengthen the conservation measures in it.”

Many industry groups have criticized the proposal. A joint comment submitted in early July by the American Petroleum Institute and several other oil and gas groups argued that the rule raises “foundational separation of powers concerns” and “offers scarce statutory backing for upsetting a balance Congress has carefully crafted.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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