Sunday, April 28, 2024

DuBois column: BLM's Culture Change on the Range


BLM’s culture change on the range

E&E news recently had an article addressing the BLM’s rule change on conservation and their new emphasis on designating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs).

Released last March, BLM says the rule emphasizes conservation and makes it as important as livestock grazing and energy development.

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning says, “The impacts of a changing climate and increased use [of public lands] are here today. And if the BLM intends to fulfill its promise to the American people and to future generations, we need the tools to respond.”

The enviros are right with her. Danielle Murray, with the Conservation Lands Foundation, says, “For nearly 40 years, the agency has largely focused on resource extraction and other multiple uses but neglected conservation, recreation, wildlife, fragile watersheds and cultural resource protection in partnership with tribes who have stewarded these lands for centuries. This rulemaking gives the BLM an opportunity to rebalance its priorities and develop an inclusive conservation approach.”

The proposed rule also sets up a new conservation leasing system which would allow nonprofit groups to acquire leases on BLM lands for up to 10 years.

The article says they expect this rule to be finalized in April.

So what does this new rule and placing a priority on ACECs mean?

Bret Birdsong, a law professor at the University of Nevada is quoted as saying the BLM is “undergoing culture change.” The professor, who worked at Interior during the Obama administration, says the proposed rule, is designed and will have the effect of helping to push that culture change away from industrial uses and towards more conservation-minded management of the public lands.”

The BLM says that designating ACECs is “a principal tool for protecting important natural, cultural and scenic resources on the public lands the BLM manages.”

With the new emphasis on them, you better get ready for those new ACECs. In the last year alone BLM has identified 85 parcels comprising 2.2 million acres as ACECs.

Go to the Land Use Planning section of FLPMA (202), and under (d) you will find that the Secretary shall “give priority the designation and protection of areas of critical environmental concern.”                                                                                                                                                                                

Go to the Definitions section of FLPMA (103) and the very first term defined is ACEC:

 The term “areas of critical environmental concern” means areas within the public lands where special management attention is required (when such areas are developed or used or where no development is required) to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, or scenic values, fish and wildlife resources or other natural systems or processes, or to protect life and safety from natural hazards.

Now you know what they are and that the agency must give priority to them.

If you really want to get involved and wish to protect yourself and your family, go to the BLM website ( and in the search tab enter ACEC. There you will find the most recent instructions to the field “Clarification and Interim Guidance for Consideration of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern Designations in Resource Management Plans and Amendments.” There you will also find BLM Manual 1613-Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, which provides 22 pages of direction on how to identify and designate these areas.

I’m sure you will find the whole thing a joyful experience.

Finally, one thing Professor Birdsong said intrigued me. When discussing BLM and ACECs, Birdsong said these designations were “squarely within their authority.” I had been wondering why “lands with wilderness characteristics” was never mentioned. That fact, combined with the Birdsong quote, led me to thinking BLM was concerned these “lands with wilderness characteristics” designations were on shaky legal ground, and that would be a positive development. The more I thought about it, though, I don’t believe that was the case.  The “lands with wilderness characteristics” designation has certain mandatory criteria that a parcel must meet. The BLM found this to be to be too confining and would prevent them from reaching their desired amount of acreage to be removed from multiple use. So they chose the more broadly defined ACEC.

Most likely ACECs became the weapon of choice for both reasons. They are more legally defensible and they provide the more expansive and flexible platform to make these changes.

Only one thing tops this and that is the President’s authority to designate national monuments. More on that next month.

Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner ( and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation

This column originally appeared in the April editions of the NM Stockman and the Livestock Market Digest.

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