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Congress Holds Oversight Hearing Regarding the Antiquities Act and the Bureau of Land Managements Proposed Rule on Conservation and Landscape Health

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Environmental & Regulatory Policy Advisor
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On Wednesday, May 24, 2023, the Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing titled “Examining the Biden Administration’s Efforts to Limit Access to Public Lands.”  In addition to discussing the Biden Administration’s actions and proposed actions in designating National Monuments via the Antiquities Act, testimony largely focused on the potential implications of the Conservation and Landscape Health Proposed Rule (“Proposed Rule”) recently published by the U.S Bureau of Land Management (“USBLM”).

Prior to the hearing, the Subcommittee posted a detailed memorandum providing an overview of the management of federal lands and context for the purpose of the hearing.  The memorandum discusses at length the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (“FLPMA”) and its establishment of USBLM’s multiple-use and sustained yield mandate in the stewardship of public lands. FLPMA, specifically the multiple-use and sustained yield mandate, serves at the heart of testimony provided throughout the hearing by each of the following four very knowledgeable individuals:

Hon. Todd Devlin, Commissioner, Prairie County, Montana

  • Past President, Montana Association of Counties
  • Chairman, Public Lands Steering Committee, National Association of Counties’ (“NACo”)

Dr. Julian Joseph (“J.J.”) Goicoechea, DVM, Director, Department of Agriculture, Nevada

  • Former Chairman, Eureka County Board of County Commissions
  • Past President, Nevada Cattlemen’s Association
  • Regional Vice President, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
  • Member, Board of Directors, Public Lands Council,
  • Former Board Member, Nevada Association of Counties
  • Former Chairman (for 10 years), Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council

Hon. Travis Lingenfelter, Chairman, Mohave County Board of Supervisors, Arizona

  • Member, WaterNow Alliance
  • Former Vice Mayor, City of Kingman, Arizona
  • Former Community Development Advisory Member, Cooperative Extension, University of Arizona

Hon. Stephanie Garcia Richard, Commissioner of Public Lands, State Land Office, New Mexico

  • Former Representative, State Legislature, New Mexico
  • Former Chair, House Education Committee, State Legislature, New Mexico

It is worth noting a few of the more significant comments made by the witnesses during testimony.  For instance, Commissioner Devlin and Dr. Goicoechea expressed great concern over the manner in which USBLM proposed such a significant rule without first engaging with its intergovernmental partners and without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) process.  Additionally, both relayed their disapproval with the change proposed for designating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (“ACEC”).  Commissioner Devlin testified that the Proposed Rule authorizes the USBLM “to manage proposed lands of unlimited acreage as ACECs withouth the requirement of an updated [resource management plan (“RPM”)],” and equates this new authority to giving the USBLM “a new ability to create de faccto Wilderness Studay Areas of any size without the input of state and county governments by side-stepping the RMP establishment or revision process mandated by FLPMA.”

Another relevant comment focused on the Proposed Rule’s elevation of conservation as a “use” on par with other multiple use and sustained yield uses of public lands under FLPMA.  Only Commissioner Richard expresses favor for this effort as it is consistent with the approach taken in New Mexico towards its public lands. Whereas, Commissioner Devlin and Dr. Goicoechea echoed the comments of the Subcommittee memorandum stating that this new “use” designation requires Congressional authorization. 

The other focus of the hearing was the designation of national monuments via the Antiquities Act; which was the primary focus of Supervisor Lingenfelter’s testimony. He discussed the proposed designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument, which is currently under advisement by the Biden Administration.  The proposal is requesting that over 1.1 million acres be designated and permanently protected, which is comprised of the following lands:

  • Approximately 391,936 acres (88%) managed by USBLM
  • Approximately 41,090 acres (9.2%) is Arizona State Trust Land
  • Approximately 12,133 acres (2.7%) is privately held land.

Specifically of concern for Supervisor Lingenfelter, and similar to concern expressed by the two other witnesses in regard to the USBLM Proposed Rule, is the lack of intergovernmental partnership in this proposed designation and whether or not consideration has been given to the environnental impact such a designation would cause to the proposed area.

Interestingly, all of the witnesses testified, to varying degrees, as to the critical need for access to, and preservation of, public lands.  However, difference of opinions were expressed as to how that access should be managed, the manner in which management of the land and access thereof is conducted, and the quantity of land to be preserved.  While these conversations will be ongoing indefinitely, the witnesses requested that at the very least, the USBLM extend the comment period on its Proposed Rule to allow stakeholders more time to understand the implications of it and provide meaningful input.  Unless an extension is granted, the comment period on the Proposed Rule closes on June 20, 2023.

Visit at Docket Number: 1004-AE-92 to learn more about the public comment process and/or to directly submit comments on the Proposed Rule.