by Bob Anderson, retired BLM DAD-300
I find it interesting the words that are used by the public, editors, land managers, and even Congressional members in labeling the status of the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
For example, “protected” is often used when BLM lands have been closed to use and development like a national monument or a wilderness area. But, lands that do remain open for multiple uses as intended by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 are labeled by many as “not protected”. This is not true. FLPMA mandates that use and development of these lands are done in a manner to “prevent unnecessary or undue degradation”. BLM is required to comply with all public land and environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, to assess the impacts of all uses, and to protect them against unnecessary harm by attaching mitigating measures to any permits including reclaiming the lands to a productive land use-during or after the development is completed. Note: BLM must also comply with State Law and local laws, as long as those laws do not pre-empt, or override the direction of applicable federal law.
My point here is that BLM lands are always protected even though they are open to multiple uses, and to say they are “not protected” would insult the 10,000 resource professionals, land managers, and employees of the BLM.
The other phrase “Conservation Lands” is also extremely popular with those that follow the management of our public lands. As the BLM strives to provide effective public land stewardship, it is helpful to recall the wisdom of the Conservation Movements founding father, President Theodore Roosevelt:
“Conservation”, he said, “means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us”
Of course, there is always the fall back definition for “conservation” as “Wise Use”, a term pretty much in line with President Roosevelt’s words above etched in granite on his memorial in Washington D.C.
The term “conservation” and “conservation lands” are often inappropriately used for lands that are available for Multiple Use. That is, some of the folks named above are of the opinion that when they see, speak, or hear this term “conservation lands”, these lands are off limits to everything except to walk on and take pictures.
It is inherent in BLM parlance that BLM managers must “conserve” our resources, and in BLM that comes with the tricky balancing and allocation of these resources under the various land laws that provide for use and development. In providing for these various uses under BLM’s Multiple Use Federal Mandate, the BLM must also weigh the merits of preserving lands and resources that are special and unique, in which case surface disturbance will be limited or prohibitive.
To me, those who proclaim the BLM lands as “conservation lands” are accurate if they acknowledge that these lands are available for development as much as they are for protection. However, what is most important in this discussion is that the term “Multiple Use” encapsulates all of these terms.