June 16, 2023

Ms. Tracy Stone-Manning
Director, Bureau of Land Management
1849 C St. NW, Room 5646
Washington, DC 20240,

Attention: 1004–AE92

Subject:  BLM Proposed Rule on Conservation and Landscape Health

Dear Director Stone-Manning:

I am writing on behalf of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), a non-profit organization whose membership is made up of over 2,400 current, former, and retired employees and volunteers of the National Park Service (NPS). Collectively, we represent over 45,000 years of national park management and stewardship experience. Our membership includes former NPS directors, deputy directors, regional directors, and park superintendents. Recognized as the Voices of Experience, the Coalition educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation and protection of the National Park System and mission-related programs of the NPS.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed rule on Conservation and Landscape Health. With one in every 10 acres of public land under BLM jurisdiction, this positive step forward will lead to improved ecological health across our connected conservation landscapes. 


Under the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the principles of multiple use and sustained yield govern BLM’s stewardship of public lands, unless otherwise provided by law. The proposed rule clarifies that conservation is a “use” on par with other uses of the public lands under FLPMA’s multiple-use and sustained-yield framework. To ensure the resilience of renewable resources on public lands for future generations, the proposed rule applies the fundamentals of land health and related standards and guidelines to all BLM-managed public lands and uses; current BLM policy limits their application to grazing authorizations. Finally, the proposed rule would amend the existing Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) regulations to emphasize ACECs as the principal designation for protecting important natural, cultural, and scenic resources.


  1. The Coalition strongly supports the intent of the proposed rule to improve conservation efforts on BLM lands – Section 102(a)(8) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) states,

“…the public lands be managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values; that, where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition; that will provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; and that will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use” (43 U.S.C. 1701(a)(8)). 

Part 6100 of the proposed rule would, in effect, implement §102(a)(8) of the Act by promoting the protection of intact landscapes on public lands as a critical means to achieve ecosystem resilience. It defines ‘protection’ as the act or process of conservation by preserving the existence of resources while keeping resources safe from degradation, damage, or destruction. Within the framework of the proposed rule, “protection” and “restoration” together constitute conservation, which benefits all public lands and the users of that land. 

The Coalition supports the BLM in this effort to bring conservation on par with other uses under the BLM’s purview. While conservation would not be prioritized above other uses, FLPMA actually affirms that conservation is more than a ‘use’ but a management policy which, at times, could take priority over other multiple uses.

  1. Conservation as a “use”

As the BLM moves forward with completion of the regulation, we recommend careful consideration of the language that characterizes “conservation as a use on par with others uses” under FLPMA. When we read §102(a)(8) of the Act (quoted above), it appears that “conservation” is an overarching policy directive, rather than a “use.” When we read FLPMA’s definitions of “multiple use” at §103(c) and “principal or major uses” at §103(l), it strikes us that “conservation” is not mentioned in the Act’s definitions of “use(s).”

It would be helpful if the preamble to the rule were to include an explanation as to why BLM considers “conservation” to be “a use on par with other uses,” rather than a policy directive under FLPMA. Alternately, we suggest BLM consider including a definition of “use” in §6101.4 of the rule. For example, the definition could state something like: “As used in this rule, ‘use’ means an activity authorized under FLPMA that occupies or utilizes public lands.” Such an approach would address concerns about BLM’s characterization of “conservation” as a “use” when the plain language of the Act does not make such a characterization.

  1. ACEC provisions – The Coalition also strongly supports the proposed amendment of existing regulations regarding designation of ACECs, as mentioned in the Executive Summary for the rule. We will offer more specific comments about the proposed ACEC provision in our section-by-section comments below.
  1. American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas – Finally, the Coalition recommends that the BLM, when considering appropriate public lands uses and the application of “conservation use,” apply what is learned through the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (ATLAS) (in preparation by CEQ, DOI, NOAA, and USDA). ATLAS is intended to be an accessible, updated, and comprehensive tool through which to measure the progress of conservation, stewardship, and restoration efforts across the United States. ATLAS could be used to inform BLM where conservation and restoration efforts are needed to improve land health, support biodiversity, or to improve connectivity between important habitats on public lands and adjacent jurisdictions. Conversely, the BLM’s conservation and restoration efforts should be integrated into ATLAS. On BLM lands where important natural resources and ecosystems representative of the nation’s natural heritage and biodiversity are not yet fully or adequately protected, the agency should proactively consider these areas for further protection under the enhanced ACEC provisions described in the proposed rule.


  1. Section 1610.7-2 ACECs – This section of the proposed rule would clarify and strengthen the current regulations regarding designation of ACECs. It adds Special Management Attention to the existing criteria of Relevance and Importance. The new criterium calls for multiple management procedures that should strengthen the means to protect these areas from disturbance. Subsection (c)(3) would limit designation of ACECs to only when BLM is developing new Resource Management Plans (RMPs) or revising existing plans, or when designations of ACECs are within the scope of an RMP amendment. If nominations are received outside the planning process, “interim management” may be evaluated, considered, and implemented to protect relevant and important values until the BLM completes a planning process to determine whether to designate the area as an ACEC, in conformance with the current RMP.

The Coalition recommends that more flexibility be built into this section to provide for ACEC nominations outside of the regular RMP planning process, which may only occur at 10-20 year intervals. We strongly support the concept of providing an “interim management” option for proposed ACECs. We suggest that subsection (c)(3) be revised to provide some structure to the procedures for interim protection of proposed ACECs outside of the normal RMP review process. For example, the rule could identify basic documentation and public notice procedures for the review and approval of “interim ACEC management” proposals.

  1. Section 6101.2 Objectives a through f – The Coalition supports and concurs with the six objectives listed in this section of the proposed ruleelieve they would provide for effective management of public lands in a manner consistent with the conservation requirements identified in §102(a)(8) of FLMPA.
  1. Section 6101.4 Definitions – The terms “resilient ecosystems” (or “ecosystem resilience”) and “ecological functions” are used throughout the preamble and the proposed rule, including in the definition of “conservation” in this section. We suggest that BLM add definitions of these two terms, since they are relatively complex concepts that are not generally well understood by the general public. And, as mentioned in a previous comment, we also suggest BLM consider including a definition of “use,” along the lines of the following: “As used in this rule, ‘use’ means an activity authorized under FLPMA that occupies or utilizes public lands.” The intent of defining “use” is to address concerns about BLM describing “conservation as a use on par with other uses under FLMPA” when the Act’s definitions of “use(s)” do not actually mention conservation as a use.
  2. Section 6101.5 Principles for Ecosystem Resilience – This section states, in part (underlining added for emphasis below):

Except where otherwise provided by law, public lands must be managed under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield.

(a) To ensure multiple use and sustained yield, the BLM’s management must conserve the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archaeological values.

We suggest BLM revise the wording of subsection (a) as follows:

“(a) To ensure enable multiple use and sustained yield, the BLM’s management must first (i.e., add “first) conserve the quality of …”

In the context of this rule, we think that “enable” may be a better word choice in the first part of the sentence above than “ensure,” since it more accurately reflects the relationship between “multiple use and sustained yield” and “conservation” as laid out in FLPMA §102. For example, we note that BLM also uses the word “enable” (instead of “ensure”) later in §6102.3(a) of the proposed rule, which states: “The BLM must emphasize restoration across the public lands to enable achievement of its multiple use and sustained yield mandate.”

  1. Subpart 6102 Conservation Use to Achieve Ecosystem Resilience

The Biden Administration has put forward the America the Beautiful Initiative. This initiative highlights, among other things, the need to create a) more parks and safe outdoor opportunities; b) building connectivity and corridors for fish and wildlife; and c) deploy nature to increase climate resilience and remove carbon from the atmosphere. The BLM should use in-house expertise utilizing the best available science coupled with the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (in preparation) to achieve the highlights mentions above.

a) Create more parks and safe outdoor opportunities: The BLM must identify where important natural resources and ecosystems representative of the nation’s natural heritage and biodiversity that are not yet fully or adequately protected. Of the primary terrestrial ecosystems in the United States, 111 are completely unrepresented in the national park system, and 392 ecosystems (55%) are underrepresented in the national park system (underrepresented is defined as an ecosystem with less than 5% of its total land mass held in protection) (Sayre et al. 2012a; NPCA 2013). Additionally, there are other important natural resources and ecosystems that have essentially zero conservation protection by the NPS or any other federal agency, state, local government, or privately owned conservation areas (National Park Service System Plan, 100 Years. WASO 909/133283 January 2017). BLM lands that contain freshwater biodiversity hotspots, estuarine environments, grasslands, coastal ecosystems, and high elevation desert should be considered as National Park units or protected as national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

b) Building connectivity and corridors for fish and wildlife: The American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas needs to be used to better understand the connectivity between federal holdings. By identifying BLM important to ecosystem connectivity and wildlife corridors BLM planners can better protect existing migratory and movement corridors for fish and wildlife and to provide for climate change induced migrations.

c) Deploy nature to increase climate resilience and remove carbon from the atmosphere: By applying a and b, the BLM can contribute significantly to the goals laid out in the America the Beautiful Plan (30×30 initiative) through enhanced protection.

This subpart provides important and comprehensive guidance regarding the protection, management, and restoration of natural landscapes on BLM-managed public lands. The first five sections/subsections of this subpart provide a systematic framework and effective guidance for the protection of intact landscapes (§6102.1); management of intact landscapes (§6102.2); restoration (§6102.3); restoration prioritization (§6102.3-1); and restoration planning (§6102.3-2). We now offer the following section-specific comments.

  1. Section 6102.1 – This section properly places a high priority on identifying and conserving and protecting intact landscapes. As a practical matter, prevention of landscape damage is much more effective and far less expensive than landscape restoration, plus there is no loss of ecological function while waiting for restoration to occur. We recommend that the emphasis on conservation and prevention be strengthened in the proposed rule by revising the wording of § 6101.2(b) as follows:

“Authorized officers will seek to (delete “seek to”) prioritize actions that conserve and protect intact landscapes in accordance with § 6101.2.”  

This revision changes the sentence from a suggestion to a directive, which would be more effective.

  1. Section 6102.3 Restoration Planning – In general, we support the rule’s proposed landscape restoration provisions. The “Restoration prioritization” guidance in § 6102.3-1 is especially well considered, including the following provisions:

(a) Not less than every five years, authorized officers must identify priority landscapes for restoration; and

(a)(5) Where restoration can concurrently or proactively prevent unnecessary or undue degradation, such as ecosystem conversion, fragmentation, habitat loss, or other negative outcomes that permanently impair ecosystem resilience.

While BLM manages public lands under FLPMA’s “multiple use and sustained yield mandate,” the NPS manages park units under the NPS Organic Act’s “conservation mandate,” which asserts natural and cultural resources in parks remain unimpaired. As a national park advocacy group, the Coalition sees the proposed prioritization criteria as critical to improving interagency collaboration in support of both the BLM and the NPS missions, especially when BLM proposals would impact adjacent park resources and we face the uncertainty of climate change impacts at watershed levels.

  1. Section 6102.4 Conservation Leasing – The Coalition supports the unique potential provided through the use of conservation leases. We see such leases as being another “tool” in BLM’s “conservation toolbox” due to the benefits they could provide. We offer the following suggestions:
  • We recommend BLM clarify the maximum length of leases and the ability to extend leases. For example, we believe a maximum length of 10 years would be too short for some restoration efforts, especially regarding invasive species removal where seed banks of some species can exist for decades. We recommend the maximum length be extended to 20 years with firmer commitments on revisiting lease length at regular intervals as progress is made in restoration.
  • The Coalition also recommends conservation leases be identified not only through land management planning processes, but also through other means outside of the land management process. As noted above regarding ACECs, RMP revisions typically occur at 10-20 year intervals and we feel more flexibility would allow managers to make timely, scientifically based decisions to restore damaged lands in critical need more quickly than strict adherence to land management planning and renewal processes would allow.
  • The Coalition suggests that language be added to clarify a broad range of allowable actions under conservation leases, including the use of leases to generate carbon offset credits. This will better situate the BLM to address future, yet-to-be-understood, environmentally driven impacts.
  • Lastly, we encourage BLM to deduct the cost of labor and value of work performed by the lessee from the fees charged for conservation leases, since the conservation work being conducted would provide a public benefit. We also encourage BLM to include a public benefit component in lease rent calculation to account for the benefits of improved ecosystem services. Ecosystem services can and should be calculated. As noted in the proposed rule language, this would enable the BLM to weigh the costs/benefits of ecosystem services provided in conservation lease agreements versus extractive uses.
  1. Section 6102.5 Management actions for ecosystem resilience – The Coalition strongly supports the provisions of this section including identification of priority watersheds, landscapes, and ecosystems as well as annual land health assessment reports. We especially appreciate BLM’s adoption of the mitigation hierarchy which prioritizes 1) avoidance [over]; 2) mitigation [over]; 3) compensation for adverse impacts when authorizing uses of public lands. Following these priorities, as well as the other provisions in this section of the proposed rule, will be very beneficial for the protection of resources on public lands. 
  1. Section 6103.1 a and b, Fundamentals of land health – The “fundamentals” listed in this section are virtually the same as BLM’s existing Fundamentals of Rangeland Health found at 43 CFR §4180.1. However, as described in the proposed rule, these guidelines would apply to all BLM-managed lands and program areas, not just range management. This all-areas approach will undoubtedly contribute to the accomplishment of BLM’s land health objectives.
  1. Section 6103.1-1 Land health standards and guidelines – This section provides a comprehensive list of land health standards and guidelines that authorized officers must implement to ensure ecosystem resilience. We support the standards and guidelines as written. We applaud that subsection (a)(3) requires that:

Authorized officers will periodically, but not less than every 5 years in conjunction with regular land use plan evaluations, review land health standards and guidelines for all lands and program areas to ensure they serve as appropriate measures for the fundamentals of land health. If existing standards and guidelines are found to be insufficient, authorized officers must evaluate whether to revise or amend the applicable land use plans.

Given the evolving impacts of climate change and other environmental stressors, it is imperative that the proposed standards and guidelines in this section be periodically reviewed and updated, if needed, in order to achieve the fundamentals of ecosystem health described in the previous section.

  1. Section 6103.1-2 Land health assessments, evaluations, and determinations – Subsection (a) requires authorized officers to consider existing land health assessments, evaluations, and determinations in the course of decision-making processes regardless of program area. It is critical that land health status is not only regularly assessed but also consistently used as a required consideration in BLM land management decisions, including plan revisions and policy changes. To reinforce this point, we suggest that the proposed rule be amended to require that “potential impacts to land health be formally considered as part of all BLM land management decisions.” In practical terms, this could include considering “land health” as an impact topic, as appropriate, in any NEPA analyses prepared in support of BLM proposed actions.


In closing, the Coalition wholeheartedly supports the Conservation and Land Health proposed rule and believes its implementation will provide numerous land health benefits to millions of acres of public lands managed by the BLM. We hope our comments will help strengthen the proposed rule and contribute to its successful implementation. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to comment on this important issue.


Michael Murray signature



Michael B. Murray
Chair of the Executive Council
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Unit 77436
Washington, DC 20013