Utah lawmakers, federal delegation sound the alarm on proposed BLM public lands rule change

May 18, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: May 19, 2023, 9:14 am

MILFORD, UT - MAY 31: Wild horses roam free on state and some private land, outside federal disenga...

MILFORD, UT - MAY 31: Wild horses roam free on state and some private land, outside federal disengaged horse management areas on May 31, 2017 outside Milford, Utah. Photo credit: George Frey/Getty Images.

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed BLM public lands rule change about how those lands can be used has some of Utah’s state lawmakers and the federal delegation sounding the alarm.

The Bureau of Land Management change, announced in April, seeks to add “conservation and health” as official use for public lands.

The BLM is required to manage public lands for “multiple use and sustained yield” under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act known as FLPMA. 

The fear from some state Republicans is that adding “conservation and health” as one of those uses means the BLM could designate some of Utah’s lands as unusable under this new destination. And that could impact Utah’s grazing, mining, or entertainment on public lands.

“It means that [the BLM] could essentially have no use and call it a use,” said Rep. Phil Lyman (R-Blanding).

The BLM argues it’s needed for protection and restoration.

State lawmakers pushback

Lyman says he’s helping orchestrate a letter written by Utah’s House Speaker and Senate President to be sent to the BLM calling for them to halt the change.

Lyman asserts that the new designation is part of an ongoing effort by the BLM to increase its control over public lands. He called the Director of the BLM Tracy Stone-Manning a “former eco-terrorist.”

“If these people were interested in conservation they would do some conservation,” he said. “What they’re interested in is control.”

At the end of Wednesday’s special legislative session House Speaker Wilson called for any members of the body to sign on to this forthcoming letter.

“I want to be super clear, I would be opposed to this regardless of it was a Republican or Democrat administration proposing this,” Wilson said. 

Federal delegation pushback on BLM rule change

Utah’s Senators — Mitt Romney and Mike Lee — have also been crying foul, including launching a bill that seeks to block the change. The senators, along with senators from several other states, issued a statement Monday after writing a letter of their own.

“This new leasing regime opens the door for a new, noncompetitive process designed to lock away parcels of land, with no limits to size, for a period of 10 or more years. It’s clear that anti-grazing and anti-development organizations would abuse this tool to attempt to halt ranching and block access to our nation’s abundant energy reserves located on public lands,” the senators wrote.

Designations based on ‘science’

The BLM says public lands need this protection.

“The BLM’s ability to manage for multiple use and sustained yield of public lands depends on the resilience of ecosystems across those lands…Ensuring resilient ecosystems has become imperative, as public lands are increasingly degraded and fragmented due to adverse impacts from climate change and a significant increase in authorized use,” their order reads.

The BLM also says that their designations will be based on data.

“To ensure that health and resilience, the proposed rule provides that the BLM will protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and make wise management decisions based on science and data.”

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Utah lawmakers, federal delegation sound the alarm on proposed BLM public lands rule change