It Might Not Sound Sexy, But It's the Future of Our Public Lands

Except for a minute number of policy wonks, what could be more uninteresting and bureaucratic than land use planning? Maybe land use planning for lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Yet I would argue that it should be of interest to many, many Americans. After all, this is something that affects 250 million acres of your lands -- lands where you hike, bike, camp, fish, hunt and watch wildlife.

Land use planning for these federal lands, found mostly in the 11 Western states and Alaska, is driven by a complex suite of federal laws, regulations, and agency policy handbooks. On top of that, they are interpreted by case law, illustrated with dozens of maps, written on many hundreds of pages, accompanied by dozens of appendixes, filled with scientific and bureaucratic jargon, and can cover millions of acres.

Even the terminology the BLM is using to describe its latest initiative -- Planning 2.0 -- conjures up visions of another dense file to put on a shelf or banish to a hard drive.

But here's why you should care. BLM's land use plans, called Resource Management Plans, decide how your lands will be managed. These plans can affect the size and health of mule deer herds and sage grouse habitat. BLM management plans identify where oil and gas leases will be offered and determine where roads and trails can be built. These decisions are crucial to those who live in nearby communities, hunt and fish and camp on public lands, cherish and record the vast archeological resources hidden there, or make their living ranching or outfitting on public lands.

Because this is complicated, it is important for those who understand the process to participate and to help others participate. The National Wildlife Federation has worked with hunters, anglers, wildlife lovers and outdoor enthusiasts for decades to help their voices be heard. Denver is the site of one of two public sessions on a new approach to planning that could, with the right guidelines, ensure the integrity of important wildlife habitat, watersheds and recreation areas for generations to come.

So, when you break it down, this process is really about what we value. It's about a great American legacy -- public lands. And it's about whether that legacy -- along with our great deer, elk and pronghorn herds, sage grouse, native cutthroat trout, pristine waters, remote backcountry -- will endure.

The National Wildlife Federation, its partners in the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition -- Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership -- and six NWF state affiliates have submitted recommendations for improving the public lands planning process. We want to keep key landscapes intact and conserve important ecosystems. We need to consider mule deer migration corridors and species and habitats in the bull's eye of climate change. We need to be smart from the start when deciding where to drill or install utility-scale solar and wind projects.

A critical part of any planning process is identifying the places to just leave alone. Instead of saying that areas are open to development unless specifically closed, let's try a "closed-unless-deemed-appropriate" approach.

The demands of the West's growing population, the increasing conflicts between energy development and fish and wildlife resources, and the challenges of juggling all the competing uses, which is BLM's mission, means the agency will have its work cut out for it.