Proposed BLM rule change sees criticism in Federalism Committee
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Federalism Committee, an interim committee for the Idaho Legislature, heard opposition to a proposed rule change from Bureau of Land Management at a Tuesday meeting in Boise.
The BLM announced its proposed rule change to public lands across the country on April 3, titled Conservation and Landscape Health. It proposes new regulations that add to the 1976 Federal Land Policy Management Act, commonly called FLPMA. A rule change is not an act of Congress, and it could be introduced only through the BLM after public input.
Dirk Mendive, regional director for Idaho U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher’s office, spoke to the committee about Fulcher’s concerns and opposition to the change. Mendive stressed that Fulcher believed changes of this scale should go through Congress.
Among other changes, the rule proposes conservation leasing, where a piece of public land would only be only used for conservation, rather than grazing or other public land uses.
“How restrictive then are these leases?” Mendive asked. “The rule does state that it is not intended to provide a mechanism for precluding other uses such as grazing, mining and recreation. But, alarmingly, the rule also says that some access could be temporarily closed for purposes authorized by conservation leases such as restoration activities or habitat improvements.”
Mendive said there are no timelines for how long a conservation lease may be closed, or the size of the restricted area.
The BLM manages roughly 12 million acres of Idaho land, or about one-fourth of the state, for recreation, as well as leases granted for grazing, mining, and mineral gathering.
“The proposed rule also provides a framework for land managers to apply provisions of FLPMA that direct the BLM to prioritize the identification, evaluation and designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) through land use planning,” the Department of the Interior wrote in an announcement last month. “ACECs are the primary BLM designation for public lands where special management is required to protect important natural, historic, cultural and scenic resources, systems or processes, or to protect life and safety from natural hazards.”
Mendive said his office thought “it would be reasonable to conclude that ACECs may become a more primary vehicle for BLM to designate lands placed in a protected status.”
Russ Hendricks, vice president of government affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau, said the proposed rule could cut grazing areas for ranchers. Hendricks pointed out Idaho already has 108 ACECs.
“Logistically, BLM has been behind with renewing grazing permits and leases for a long time. They’ve always said ‘We don’t have the funding. We don’t have the manpower to be able to do this,’” Hendricks said during a panel discussion. “And in our view, this is just adding a lot of bureaucracy and requirements for personnel and for resources to be devoted to do the things that they’re implementing. The concern is how much farther are going to be behind on implementing or renewing the permits and the leases that they are already being on.”
Hendricks said the proposed rule may affect ranchers’ ability to place stock water out on BLM land.
Sandra Mitchell, executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council, expressed concerns about recreators being able to continue to use BLM, should the proposal move forward.
“I’m surprised at how close they came to just flat out saying ‘Recreation is a threat to public land,’” Mitchell told the committee
Mitchell stressed that it is possible to disturb land and not make it unhealthy.
“This plan is a huge threat to recreation because most of the standards are highly subjective and without guardrails for implementation,” Mitchell said.
Owyhee County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland spoke in opposition to the BLM rule change as both a commissioner, but also as an individual with a grazing permit on public land.
There are 850 miles of roads on public lands in Owyhee County that the county maintains, Hoagland said. The proposal raises questions over how or if the county would be able to continue to maintain those roads to the BLM standards and if they would need to change the way they maintain those roads.
“The proposed rule only mentions local government once,” Hoagland said. “The proposed rule would use committees to advise agency managers. There’s no indicator of state government input or local.”
The committee agreed to submit written comments on the BLM proposed plan. No BLM representatives spoke on the panel.
Mendive encouraged the committee to offer public comment on the proposal through the BLM’s website. The public comment period is open until June 20.