Conservation Has Always Been a Part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Multiple Use Mandate

Jul 21, 2023 | LPP Blog

Jamie Pleune

Green mountain with trees in gold and brown colors against a blue sky

Current Conditions on Public Lands Justify the BLM’s Proposed Conservation and Landscape Health Rule

On April 3, 2023, the Bureau of Land Management proposed new regulations that “would advance the BLM’s mission to manage the public lands for multiple use and sustained yield by prioritizing the health and resilience of ecosystems across those lands.”[1] The purpose of the proposed rule, commonly referred to as the Public Lands Rule, is to ensure that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will “protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and make wise management decisions based on science and data.”[2] The preamble recognizes that BLM has ‘three primary ways to manage for resilient public lands: (1) protection of intact, native habitats; (2) restoration of degraded habitats; and (3) informed decisionmaking, primarily in plans, programs and permits.”[3] The proposed rule creates tools to ensure that these strategies are implemented in BLM decisions and permits. One proposed strategy is the creation of conservation leases. One news outlet characterized the rule as a “seismic shift” in lands management. In contrast, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland focused on the BLM’s statutory duty to manage public lands. “It is our responsibility to use the best tools available to restore wildlife habitat, plan for smart development, and conserve the most important places for the benefit of generations to come.”

Six faculty members of the Wallace Stegner Center, through the Law & Policy Program submitted comments on the proposed rule, which can be read here. Drawing upon decades of combined experience in environmental law and public land management, they reviewed the strong justification for the proposed rule in the BLM’s land management duties and responsibilities as set forth in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). They also emphasized the “changing needs and conditions” on public lands. Deteriorating land health and the challenges of climate change justify the BLM’s prioritization of ecological resilience, intact landscapes, restoration, mitigation, and land health. Additionally, emerging market opportunities for conservation and mitigation justify the BLM’s exercise of discretion to develop conservation leases, which are consistent with the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. This is not to say that the proposed rule is perfect, the comments also included recommendations to clarify the proposed rule, particularly the provision regarding conservation leases.

The comment period closed on July 5, 2023. After it closed, the Center for Western Priorities conducted a statistical analysis of more than 150,000 public comments, finding a broad base of support. Through a random sample of 10,000 public comments, they found that 92 percent encouraged the Interior Department to adopt the Public Lands Rule as written or strengthen the conservation measures. Despite this overwhelming support, members of the House and Senate have introduced bills instructing the BLM to withdraw the proposed rule. Political opposition aside, the evidence supporting the need to prioritize conservation on public lands continues to mount.

Jamie Pleune, a white woman with blonde hair wearing a pink blouse and light-grey blazer

Jamie Pleune is an Associate Professor of Law (Research) and the Interim Director of the Law and Policy Program in the Wallace Stegner Center.




[1] Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Conservation and Landscape Health, 88 Fed. Reg. 19583, 19583 (Apr. 3, 2023) [hereinafter Proposed Public Lands Rule].

[2] 88 Fed. Reg. at 19583.

[3] Id. at 19585.