BLM Announces National Rule to Conserve and Protect Public Lands

Cascade Siskiyou by Bob Wick

In celebration of Earth Week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) unveiled its new Public Lands Rule! This new policy marks a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to protect our nation’s public lands. The Public Lands Rule elevates the importance of conservation alongside resource extraction activities like grazing and mining on BLM-managed lands, ensuring the preservation of vital ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and cultural resources for present and future generations.

The BLM oversees 245 million acres of public lands, more than any other land manager in the US. In Oregon, these landscapes include areas of incredible wonder like the Owyhee Canyonlands, the Greater Hart-Sheldon, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, as well as two and a half million acres of backyard “O&C Lands” forests.

Opportunity for Underserved Communities

Once implemented, this rule holds promise for revitalizing and harmonizing the diverse interests on BLM land while also paying long-overdue attention to underserved communities. 

According to the America the Beautiful Coalition, which consists of over 250 organizations across the country–including Oregon Wild, the BLM manages more than 20 million unprotected acres within 10 miles of the most socially vulnerable and nature-deprived census tracts. “BLM lands offer tremendous opportunity to close the “nature gap” and address longstanding inequities.”

In addition to conserving public land, the rule provides new tools to engage with community-led and Tribal conservation proposals, restore degraded landscapes, and respond to climate change impacts. 

Industry Opposition to Conservation

Industry-backed politicians have opposed the Public Lands Rule, arguing against safeguarding public lands for wildlife, drinking water, recreation, and as a natural climate solution. Extractive industries like grazing, logging, and mining view public lands as theirs to degrade, leaving the public to clean up and deal with the consequences. 

These industries are also the ones that are contributing the most to climate change and habitat degradation. In an age of extinction and global warming, we know we need to do things differently, and our public lands are one of the best places to do that. The Public Lands Rule is an effort to strike a new balance.

Backyard Forests Left Out

One of the best solutions for fighting climate change – the protection of mature and old-growth forests on O&C lands – was elevated as an important natural climate solution in the Public Lands Rule, alongside habitat connectivity. While highlighting the importance of these essential natural climate solutions is laudable, the language is not something we can use to actually enforce protections for our mature and old-growth trees from the threat of logging. This is especially concerning considering the Oregon BLM continues to clearcut the forests they manage for profit, including aggressively logging of mature and rare old-growth trees.

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