BLM rule stirs debate over little-used conservation policy

By Scott Streater | 04/29/2024 01:43 PM EDT

The Bureau of Land Management’s hotly debated new public lands rule could result in state directors temporarily protecting certain lands from energy development and other uses.

The Black Hills area of critical environmental concern.

The Black Hills area of critical environmental concern protects a high-desert ecosystem in Christmas Valley, Oregon. Greg Shine/Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

The Bureau of Land Management’s sweeping new public lands rule highlights a little known, and rarely used, authority that allows the agency to temporarily block energy development and other uses on sensitive rangelands, potentially for years at a time.

In what could be a significant change in practice, a small section of the 178-page conservation and landscape health rule BLM finalized this month suggests it could more frequently apply this authority, which has been around for decades, to parcels that have been nominated by the public for protection as “areas of critical environmental concern,” or ACECs.

BLM state directors are authorized under federal law to implement these “temporary management” measures on nominated parcels, with few restrictions. Directors can take this step before parcels go through the lengthy land-use revision process required before the designation of an ACEC — which are managed primarily to protect their environmental, cultural, historic or scientific values, restricting activities that conflict with that priority.


The temporary management measures would be lifted once BLM makes a determination about the ACEC as part of a larger resource management plan (RMP). But some land-use plans across the West can wait decades to be revised.