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(OPINION) Ensuring the health of our public lands today, for tomorrow

"Focusing on land health can and must extend across all the BLM’s work, from recreation to energy development," BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning writes.

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There is one thing that unites nearly all Westerners: an abiding love of our public lands.

We camp, play, hike, hunt, fish, and create memories on our public lands. We rely on them for food, timber, minerals, and energy. They provide clean water, clean air, and essential wildlife habitat. They drive our economy.

As the nation’s largest public land manager, the Bureau of Land Management balances these uses. But as the climate crisis worsens and our public lands suffer, that work gets harder.

Fortunately, there is one way to ensure our public lands will provide the countless resources they always have: prioritizing landscape health.

Thanks to the president’s Investing in America agenda, we are putting people to work like never before in restoring our public lands and waters, from conserving water in wetlands, to plugging abandoned oil wells that leak toxic fumes, to restoring forests and rangelands at heightened risk of wildfire.

In Wyoming for example, we’re investing $20 million in restoring wildlife habitat, clean water, and biodiversity across the LaBarge and Muddy Creek landscapes near Pinedale and Rawlins. This effort is supporting partnerships that are conserving wildlife habitat and migration corridors, restoring priority greater sage-grouse habitat, removing invasive species, and protecting vital water resources.

We’re also ensuring that our land managers have tools they need to protect, restore, and maintain our public lands and waters with wise, science-driven decisions. Those tools are outlined in the proposed Public Lands Rule, which would put conservation on equal footing with other uses. We received helpful feedback from the public and expect to publish a final rule in the coming months.

Focusing on land health can and must extend across all the BLM’s work, from recreation to energy development.

Our public lands work hard, having powered our nation with reliable and affordable energy for over a century. That’s going to continue, but the kind of energy we’re developing is shifting. President Biden and Secretary Haaland have been clear: we owe it to current and future generations to tackle the climate crisis, today. As we endure the hottest summer on record, this work takes on deeper urgency.

To meet this moment, we are ramping up and incentivizing clean energy development to achieve a carbon-pollution free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by 2050. Importantly, we are developing renewable energy in the right places where conflicts with other uses are low.

At the same time, we’re ensuring that throughout the energy transition, oil and gas development is as responsible as possible. We’re clamping down on antiquated practices like speculation and driving development away from important wildlife habitat and recreational and cultural areas. We’re putting into rule what Congress passed into law — increasing what the nation charges oil and gas companies so taxpayers receive a fair return on the resources they own. And, for the first time in over 50 years, we’re increasing bonding rates that oil and gas companies must pay so taxpayers no longer foot the bill to clean up abandoned wells.

Meanwhile, we’re responding to a booming demand for recreation. We love that you love us. That’s why we recently released a Blueprint for 21st Century Outdoor Recreation, which we’re taking to the public for ideas on how best to put it into action. You can have fun on public lands, and we want to keep it that way while still protecting the lands we all love to visit. That’s going to take collaborative planning and diverse funding. We are committed to both.

Some of our public lands are so exceptional that they deserve long-term protection. Over the past two years, President Biden has designated and restored four national monuments on BLM-managed public lands in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. These lands are the sacred, ancestral homelands of Tribes who have lived here for thousands of years. Their protection is a commitment to future generations, but protection is just the first step. Under the direction of the president and Secretary Haaland, we will manage these monuments alongside the Tribes that know them best through historic co-stewardship agreements. With enduring partnerships, we can ensure these living landscapes continue to inform our nation’s deeper understanding of the land and its history. This is how we tell our country’s full and honest story.

Of course, none of these intertwined efforts will be successful on paper alone. It will be BLM employees, working in partnership with communities, stakeholders, and our permittees, who will make them successful. Over 97% of the bureau’s staff work in the West. They show up every day committed to delivering a wide range of uses on our beloved public lands and to leaving them in as good or better shape than they found them. They are managing for landscape health, and they deserve every tool they need to get this work done.

As the public lands that unite and define us change before our eyes, our shared future is counting on it.

Tracy Stone-Manning,
Bureau of Land Management director

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