Public Lands

Western Energy Alliance believes in the principle of multiple use of public lands. As the population in western states swells and more focus is paid to the various uses of these lands, it’s increasingly important that federal agencies are prepared to respond to growing demand for competing resources. Our public comments on Resource Management Plan (RMP) updates, below, consistently stress the importance of the balance between resource development and sensible land use restrictions.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are tasked with managing public lands and forests for “multiple use and sustained yield” of resources, “including, but not limited to recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife and fish, and natural scenic, scientific and historical values.” This is the mission defined in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).  To that end, the agencies conduct land use planning to develop long-term management policies for the public lands and national forests under their care.

Each agency periodically updates RMP’s and Forest Plans for a particular area, typically associated with a single field office, as the guiding documents for managing the land. The multiple-use principle requires the agencies to balance competing resource values in order to best meet the needs of the American people. Planning documents determine which lands are open for productive uses, such as oil and natural gas development, and which lands are set aside for conservation. Finalized RMPs and Forest Plans guide the agencies as they conduct lease sales, grant permits, and authorize other surface and subsurface uses of the lands.

Through the land use planning process, the agencies also identify lands and resources that require some level of protection, including wildlife, habitat, special management areas, visual resources, or areas of critical environmental concern. Development may be allowed in or near these areas while accommodating for timing restrictions or buffer zones around areas such as seasonal wildlife habitat and migration corridors.

In addition, BLM protects millions of acres as Wilderness Study Areas, National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, and other protective designations. These lands are closed off to resource development, and unfortunately, recent designations have been used to place millions of acres off limits to productive uses such as energy development. Thankfully the current administration has taken proactive steps to end this practice, including a reduction in the size of several monuments designated under previous administrations.

In the past, RMP updates were also used as excuses to foreclose development for extensive periods of time. BLM would often defer leasing across a field office while RMP amendments were in progress, and given the lengthy development periods for these documents, the delays acted as a de facto temporary ban on leasing. To end this practice, the current administration issued guidance in 2018 clarifying that “BLM will not routinely defer leasing when waiting for an RMP amendment or revision to be signed.” The Alliance supports this guidance as consistent with statutory requirements to conduct lease sales when parcels are available under existing RMPs.  

The land use planning process is a sensible approach to the management of federal lands. These planning documents are updated about every 15 to 20 years, and incorporate input from other federal agencies, states, counties, industry, environmental groups and the general public. As the map below shows, there are currently 36 RMP updates in progress. Once they are completed, BLM and USFS will use the documents as they begin the federal leasing process.

Western Energy Alliance Comments

California

Colorado

Montana

New Mexico

North Dakota

Nevada

Utah

Wyoming