County weighs in on proposed BLM rule to add “conservation” to multiple use

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan County Commission discussed a variety of issues around public lands at their latest meeting including a proposed rule by the Bureau of Land Management that would clarify conservation as a “use” within the Federal Land Policy and Management Act multiple-use framework.
The proposed rule was published on April 3 with a public comment period closing on June 20. Over 100,000 comments have been received on the proposed rule.
The 22-page published document outlines the BLM’s reasoning for the proposed rule. The document states that the BLM’s ability to manage for multiple uses and sustained yield on public lands depends on the resilience of ecosystems across those lands. In order to ensure resiliency for future generations the proposed rule promotes conservation as a use on par with other multiple uses of public lands.
The BLM’s multiple-use plan permits ranching, mineral extraction, recreation and other uses; the proposed conservation use would allow individuals, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and Tribal governments to purchase conservation leases to conserve land to protect intact landscapes and/or restore degraded habitat.
The document states the proposed rule would not prioritize conservation above other uses but put it on equal footing with other uses.
The 22-page document says that leases would not “override valid existing rights or preclude other, subsequent authorizations so long as those subsequent authorizations are compatible with conservation use.”
The proposed rule would also focus on so-called Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). With an emphasis on ACEC’s “as the principal designation for protecting important natural, cultural, and scenic resources.”
At their June 6 meeting members of the San Juan County Commission approved a letter outlining “serious concerns” with the proposed rule.
The letter notes that 41-percent of San Juan County’s lands are managed by the BLM, with the county noting that roughly three-quarters of that land is under “restrictive management” including National Monument and Wilderness Study Area designation. The letter states that “the proposed rule has the potential to put even more BLM lands under restrictive management with the potential to further negatively affect county economics.”
The county letter also takes issue with the possible interpretation of ‘conservation’ use as ‘preservation’ or no use.
“This interpretation could turn BLM management into a preservation mode similar to the National Park Service which would be contrary to BLM’s mandate to manage for multiple use and sustained yield.“
The letter also notes concerns over conservation leases. “Such a conservation lease could be used to restrict or eliminate current use(s) and ‘lock up’ tracts of land from legitimate public uses.”
The county letter also outlined other areas of concern including changes to Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, defining ‘intact landscapes’, and the proposed rule’s exemption of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The county commission unanimously approved the letter, joining other entities including the Utah Association of Counties, the state Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, The Blue Ribbon Coalition, and county residents who have voiced their opposition to the proposed rule.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has urged comments supporting the proposed rule.
“For more than 40 years the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has often gotten it wrong, prioritizing resource extraction over other public land uses to the detriment of wildlife, healthy ecosystems, cultural preservation, and climate resiliency.
“Under the Biden administration, the agency is making an urgently needed course correction by updating its own rules and priorities with an eye toward restoring conservation to its rightful place under the ‘multiple use’ framework Congress directed it to follow.”
At their latest meeting, members of the commission also approved a contract with the American Stewards of Liberty for $18,000.
The nonprofit will aid the county in coordinating and advising in federal land planning in the county.
Members of the commission also heard from San Juan Public Entry & Access Rights (SPEAR) members during public comment
SPEAR member John Fellmeth addressed the commission, outlining the group’s emphasis of the importance of motorized trail access in the county. Fellmeth noted trail access importance to many local residents, social and recreational uses, disability and elderly access to the outdoors and the economic benefits of visitors coming to used motorized trails.
SPEAR members expressed concerns of the increased loss of motorized trail access as federal agencies develop the resource management plan for Bears Ears National Monument.
Fellmeth noted that the county previously adopted an ATV/OHV trail system plan to protect known trails in the county. Language from that plan was included in the Trump-era resource management plan.
“We would ask that San Juan County, in its role as a cooperating agency, strongly advocate for the inclusion of similar language in the alternatives and the (Bears Ears National Monument) Resource Management Plan currently being developed.”
Commission members expressed informal support of the request, with plans to advocate for county public land plans as a cooperating agency with the BLM on the project and as they employ the services of American Stewards of Liberty.
Members of the commission also approved a letter asking to continue to be a consulting party for the renewed review of March and December 2018 Oil and Gas Lease Sales in areas southeast of Blanding and East Canyon north of Monticello.
Members of the commission also added signatures to a letter from the Arizona/Utah Local Economic Coalition asking the Biden administration not to designate another national monument in the region.
The commission joined other elected leaders in Mohave County, Arizona, Kane and Washington County, Utah, and others in the request to the administration.

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