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June 5, 2024

Bureau of Land Management Releases Final Public Lands Rule

By: Rachel Fussell, senior manager of recreation policy

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The Public Lands Rule legitimizes conservation as part of a multiple-use mandate and will guide the balanced management of our nation’s BLM lands.

245 million acres of federal public land will soon be managed under a new paradigm, legitimizing conservation as part of a multiple-use mandate from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). On April 18, 2024, the BLM finalized a new Public Lands Rule after reviewing more than 200,000 public comments. 

The Public Lands Rule will guide the balanced management of our nation’s BLM lands to improve the health and resilience of our public lands in the face of a changing climate. It aims to conserve critical wildlife habitat and intact landscapes, facilitate responsible development, and better recognize unique cultural and natural resources on public lands. The rule also adds "conservation" to the agency's mandate of multiple uses of public lands, elevating the preservation, protection, and restoration of the natural environment and wildlife as a legitimate use. The new rule strives to address shortcomings in management related to land health to better ensure the "health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations." 

PeopleForBikes submitted public comments in support of the final Public Lands Rule, advocating that outdoor recreation interests be put on equal footing with other land use priorities. In acknowledgment and response to overwhelming support for outdoor recreation as a conservation measure, the BLM included a new objective in the final rule's preamble:

In response to comments, the final rule includes a new objective to: “Provide for healthy lands and waters that support sustainable outdoor recreation experiences for current and future generations.” The BLM views sustainable recreation as being compatible with conservation management, including specifically with restoration and mitigation leasing, protection of intact landscapes, management for land health, designation of ACECs, and other principles and management actions provided for in the rule. Furthermore, the BLM anticipates that outdoor recreation would benefit from these conservation measures and would be considered a reason to protect and restore certain landscapes. 

Recreation and tourism on BLM lands contribute $11.4 billion to local, often rural, communities and the overall national economy. On the 245 million acres that the BLM oversees, year-round recreational opportunities, including biking, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and wildlife viewing, entice more than 80 million recreation visits annually.  

PeopleForBikes believes conservation and outdoor recreation are intricately linked and compatible. Therefore, we support conservation efforts that are essential to slow the effects of climate change, which could alter or prohibit current and future generations from enjoying the benefits of mountain biking and other forms of outdoor recreation on public lands. 

The final rule outlines three main directives:

Manage Landscape Health

To help sustain the health of public lands and waters, the rule directs the BLM to manage public land uses in accordance with the fundamentals of land health, which will help watersheds support soils, plants, and water; ecosystems provide healthy populations and communities of plants and animals; and wildlife habitats on public lands protect threatened and endangered species consistent with the multiple-use and sustained-yield framework.  

Provide a Mechanism for Restoring and Protecting Public Lands Through Restoration and Mitigation Leases

Restoration leases provide greater clarity for the BLM to work with appropriate partners to restore degraded lands. Mitigation leases provide a clear and consistent mechanism for developers to offset their impacts by investing in land health elsewhere on public lands like they currently can on state and private lands. The final rule clarifies who can obtain a restoration or mitigation lease, limiting potential lessees to qualified individuals, businesses, non-governmental organizations, Tribal governments, conservation districts, or state fish and wildlife agencies. Restoration and mitigation leases will not be issued if they would conflict with existing authorized uses. 

Clarify the Designation and Management of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs)

The final rule provides greater detail about how the BLM will continue to follow the direction of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to prioritize the designation and protection of ACECs. Following public comments, the final rule clarifies how the BLM’s consideration of new ACEC nominations and temporary management options does not interfere with the BLM’s discretion to continue advancing pending project applications. 

PeopleForBikes will continue to analyze the final rule and BLM’s implementation of the rule. We look forward to working with BLM staff, our partners, and advocates to expand access to bicycling and outdoor recreation for all on our federal public lands.

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