TERRY, Mont. – Governor Greg Gianforte today provided further opposition to a proposed rule by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which would alter the use of BLM lands to the detriment of recreation, livestock grazing, responsible resource development, and public access.
The proposed rule seeks to define “conservation” as a use within the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), which requires BLM to manage its lands on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield.
In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, the governor outlines eight reasons the BLM should withdraw its rule, including conflict with existing law and federal overreach.
“The Rule’s creation of ‘conservation leases’ conflicts with the Taylor Grazing Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and Public Rangelands Improvement Act,” Gov. Gianforte wrote. “This Rule is nothing more than a revival of the 1995 conservation use rule, already stricken by the courts as unlawful.”
The governor continued, “Even if the Rule were founded in law, its terminology and criteria are so ill-defined and lacking in quantifiable metrics that agency overreach is inevitable. The ambiguity manifest in this rulemaking effort will lead to inconsistent, half-hearted implementation at best and controversial, divisive litigation between an over-reaching agency and stakeholders at worst.”
Gov. Gianforte also criticized the rule for conflicting with the state’s work to address Montana’s forest health crisis.
“Montana’s forests are emitting more carbon than they capture, the core fire season is 40 days longer than it was 30 years ago, and the forest products industry continues to struggle amid record lumber prices,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Over 64 percent of forested lands in Montana are federally owned, and of that federal ownership, 53 percent are not available for active management due to existing use designations.”
In addition, the governor raised concerns about the rule enabling BLM to unilaterally establish areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC) and pursue “a heavy-handed land grab.”
“This rule allows the BLM to treat an area as an ACEC without any formal land use planning, stakeholder engagement, or public process,” the governor stated. “Apart from being legally rife, such an impenetrable, dictatorial procedure is just bad policy.”
Furthermore, the governor wrote, “It is unclear under what authority the BLM believes it can pursue land acquisition. More troubling is the BLM’s belief that it can prioritize acquisition based on ACECs, rather than other factors, such as whether it can fulfill its multiple use, sustained yield mandate.”
Finally, the governor criticizes BLM for excluding the proposed rule from review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“I ask that the BLM reconsider its inconsistent position here, withdraw the rule, and engage with States and stakeholders in a transparent and inclusive NEPA process they deserve,” the governor concluded.
The governor’s full letter for comment on 88 Fed. Reg. 19583 (Apr. 3, 2023) may be viewed here.