Vermillion Basin northwest Colorado is among the BLM lands the public wants to protect. Photo: Judith Kohler
People who want to dismantle our public-lands legacy like to portray federal land-management agencies as absentee overseers, out-of-touch and dictatorial. Just one more reason the states should take control of the land, they insist.
Of course, those people ignore the fact that these lands, including national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, belong to all Americans. They don’t mention the laws requiring the feds to involve the public as well as other levels of government in management decisions. Or point out that the U.S. Forest Service, BLM and other agencies must manage national public lands for multiple purposes in a way that sustains the natural resources for future generations.
Do the federal agencies always get it right? No. Sportsmen and women are among the first to let the BLM and Forest Service know when safeguards for important fish and wildlife habitat and waterways are weak or if proposed activities would jeopardize hunting and fishing opportunities.
The point is that federal laws and regulations provide opportunities for the public to have a say in what happens to our public lands. And the BLM, the nation’s largest land manager, is stepping up efforts to give all interested parties a louder voice by taking public input earlier and more often when management plans are written. The agency is in the middle of developing its Planning 2.0 initiative, the first major update of its rules since 1983.
The Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition sees Planning 2.0 as the next step in efforts to improve management of public lands, which are crucial to fish and wildlife, hunting, fishing, recreation and business.
Jim Lyons, a deputy assistant secretary at the Interior Department, said during a recent public hearing that a lot has changed in the three decades since the planning rules were overhauled. Demands on public lands have increased. Conditions on the landscape and what people want and expect out of public lands are different.
And one of the best reasons for trying to make the process more inclusive and transparent? “The federal government doesn’t own these lands. You own these lands,” Lyons said.
Henri Bisson, a former BLM deputy director for operations and Alaska state BLM director, believes the planning changes will give the public more opportunities to be involved in decisions about managing public lands. The changes would take a landscape-oriented approach, recognizing that a plannig area shouldn't necessarily be defined by administrative boundaries.
“The BLM also needs to be adaptive to changing conditions on the ground and across the landscape —Planning 2.0 will enable this forward thinking approach,” Bisson added.
Public lands in southwest Wyoming are essential to the economy that’s driven by trona mining and oil and gas as well as hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation, said Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Wally Johnson. “It is important that our voice is heard in the management decisions made for our public lands."
In Colorado, outdoor recreation pumps about $34 billion into the economy, according to a 2014 report by Colorado, Parks and Wildlife.
“It’s important to me as an outfitter and sportsman that the Bureau of Land Management considers the impacts of its decisions on hunting, fishing and recreation,” said David Leinweber, owner of Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs. “Anything that improves the planning process and gives the public a stronger voice is welcome.”
About the Author
Judith Kohler is the regional communications manager for the National Wildlife Federation in Boulder, Colo. Before joining NWF in 2011, she covered the environment, energy, politics and general news stories for The Associated Press in Colorado and Wyoming.