Please Comment on the Proposed BLM Public Lands Rule by July 5, 2023

On April 3, 2023, the BLM published a draft rule proposing sweeping changes to the management of BLM lands.
The proposed BLM Lands Rule will treat conservation on an equal footing with all other uses of BLM lands.
The Friends of the Nambe Badlands supports the proposed BLM Public Lands Rule since it will help better manage BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, including the Sombrillo ACEC.
The proposed rule has a comment period (ending on July 5, 2023) to allow public input before a final rule is drafted and published.

Please review the expandable sections below to learn more about the proposed BLM Public Lands Rule.

Please submit your comments about the proposed Public Lands Rule to the official BLM comment portal.
The draft rule has three primary priorities:
  1. Promoting restoration
  2. Providing for balanced development
  3. Protecting the healthy, intact landscape
The BLM’s land management decisions are guided by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976. FLPMA created the “agency’s multiple-use and sustained yield mandate to serve present and future generations.” The multiple uses, as defined under FLPMA section 103, include (uses relevant to the Sombrillo Area of Critical Environmental Concern are bolded):

  • recreation,
  • range,
  • timber,
  • minerals,
  • watershed,
  • wildlife and fish,
  • natural scenic,
  • scientific,
  • and historical values.

Under FLPMA, the BLM is directed to inventory public lands and create management plans that implement the multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate.

The proposed rule includes four major changes to the existing regulatory scheme utilized by the BLM.

  1. Placement of “conservation” on equal footing with the other multiple uses that BLM land is managed for by clarifying that conservation is a “use” under FLPMA.
  2. Authorizing conservation leases[1]A conservation lease is a land use authorization that the BLM can issue to an external entity to help achieve restoration or mitigation outcomes on public lands. The proposed rule treats it as a … Continue readingto allow other individuals to dedicate BLM lands to conservation.
  3. A revision of the existing regulations that provided a framework for establishing ACECs: the new rule prioritizes the creation and management of these areas[2]FLPMA requires BLM to prioritize the designation and protection of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in land use plans. ACECs are a tool to protect historic, cultural and scenic resources. The … Continue reading.
  4. Expanding the framework for making land health assessments to allow for informed management decisions on BLM lands: the existing regulation limits land health assessments to grazing lands only.

The proposed rule also creates other pathways for conservation on BLM land using conservation leases.

Conservation leases are a mechanism that would allow entities to support the protection and restoration of BLM lands.

The proposed rule creates a framework to apply for and utilize a conservation lease. The length of conservation leases, as stated in the rule’s executive summary, would be for a maximum of ten years.

Under the proposed rule section 6102.4, conservation leases can be issued for either restoration and land management or to mitigate the impacts of other projects.

The leases can be issued to individuals, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, or tribal governments.

The Friends of the Nambe Badlands might be able to obtain a conservation lease on the Sombrillo ACEC if the proposed BLM Land Use Rule is passed.

In addition to conservation leases, the proposed rule authorizes the creation of new ACECs and better manages existing ACECs.

The proposed rule section 6103.1 extends the land health assessment and standards previously only used to assess grazing land health to all BLM lands.   
The Sombrillo ACEC is being damaged by over-grazing of cattle, grazing of cattle on fragile biotic soil crusts, irresponsible mountain bikers creating illegal trails on these soil crusts, and riding off officially designated trails, causing damage to the resources specifically identified as being protected under the Sombrillo ACEC.
The proposed rule authorizes the BLM to collect data to determine the cause of land health degradation to make management decisions that will best promote the overall health of BLM lands.  The Friends of the Nambe Badlands continue to submit data and damage reports to the Taos BLM Field Office.
The proposed BLM Public Lands Rule provides a mechanism for the Taos BLM Office to better manage and protect this fragile landscape as required by the stipulations of the Sombrillo ACEC.

One question that arises with the proposed rule is whether the BLM has the capacity to implement the proposed changes.

The Taos BLM Field Office is responsible for a large area of Northern New Mexico.  Resource-limited BLM law enforcement and lack of trail signage have made managing the protected resources in the Sombrillo ACEC difficult.  Irresponsible and rogue mountain bikers, albeit a small fraction of those riding the Sombrillo ACEC, continue to build illegal trails and intentionally ride off-trail on sensitive formations protected under the stipulations of the Sombrillo ACEC.  Increased law enforcement is needed to patrol the Sombrillo ACEC better.

Hopefully, the passage of the proposed BLM Public Lands Rule will result in the Taos BLM Field Office obtaining the resources necessary to conserve the Sombrillo ACEC effectively.

The section of the Sombrillo ACEC highlighted here (8,587 acres) has recently experienced significant resource damage due primarily to irresponsible mountain bikers creating illegal trails, riding across delicate biological soil crusts, widening trails, stunt riding on fragile stratigraphic features protected under the ACEC.  Immediate safeguards are needed to curb these damages, many of them being irreversible.  The proposed BLM Public Lands Rule calls for better management and protection of ACECs.  Let’s convince the BLM that the Sombrillo ACEC needs better protection; now is the time to do it.

The northern segment of the Sombrillo ACEC (8,836 acres) has suffered extensive damage from mechanized travel.  Let’s protect the southern segment of the Sombrillo ACEC (8,587 acres), rich in significant paleontological and geologic resources before it too gets destroyed.

Relevance to the Sombrillo Area of Critical Environmental Concern

There are three components of the proposed Public Lands Rule – that are very applicable to the Sombrillo ACEC:   

1. Protect Intact landscapes – in the past, the Sombrillo ACEC was an intact and healthy landscape; however, in recent years, and with a lack of protections, the land is degraded and is no longer intact or healthy.

2. Restore landscapes back to health – the fragile habitat within the Sombrillo ACEC needs to be restored back to health after recent abuse.

3. Ensure wise decision-making based on science and data is used to manage the Sombrillo ACEC.  Its fragile soft-soil ecosystem, paleontological and geologic resources, and culturally significant and scenic formations require special protections that are unique to this ACEC.

 
Here are good reasons to support the proposed BLM Public Lands Rule in light of the Sombrillo ACEC.
  1. It advances the preservation of fragile, non-renewable natural resources and would advocate for restoring the no-longer intact landscape where trails were illegally developed on protected and highly-erodible ridges, sensitive reference stratigraphic structures, and fragile biotic soil crusts.
  2. Provides a mechanism, per the DOI’s priority, to work with neighboring pueblos to maintain indigenous sacred features and ridgelines in the Sombrillo ACEC.
  3. Supports the opportunity to have BLM re-assess and move livestock grazing out of the Sombillo ACEC, as the land does not meet rangeland health standards.
  4. President Biden issued an executive order to conserve 30% of US lands.  Although the Sombrillo ACEC was established in 1987 to protect and conserve its fragile landscape and scientific resources, the proposed BLM Public Lands Rule provides a stronger mechanism for the BLM Taos Field Office to better protect and conserve this ACEC.

The comment period on the proposed rule will end on July 5, 2023.

Please see the BLM presentation slides on the Proposed BLM Land Use Rule and make your comments on this BLM page.

Steps the BLM needs to take to prevent the increasing damage to the Sombrillo ACEC

  1. Close all illegally constructed trails to mountain biking.  Post official BLM signs on these trails prohibiting bike use on them.
  2. Official BLM takedown notices sent to Trailforks.com, Strava.com, and other social media leader-boards to remove all unauthorized and illegal trails in the Sombrillo ACEC from their online presence.
  3. Official correspondence from BLM to mountain bike clubs of the specific trails closed to biking.
  4. Initiate a limited acceptable damage evaluation of user impacts to the Sombrillo ACEC with consideration of permanently closing this entire section (8,575 acres) to all forms of mechanized travel if certain damage criteria are not met.
  5. Re-evaluate and permanently retire, through buy-out programs, all grazing permits in this section of the Sombrillo ACEC.

The comment period on the proposed rule will end on July 5, 2023.

Please see the BLM presentation slides on the Proposed BLM Land Use Rule and make your comments on this BLM page.

References

References
1 A conservation lease is a land use authorization that the BLM can issue to an external entity to help achieve restoration or mitigation outcomes on public lands. The proposed rule treats it as a tool, not a requirement. The conservation lease would be proposed by a third-party and the BLM has discretion to decide whether and how a lease would be an appropriate tool to achieve restoration or mitigation. This part of the proposed rule responds to external feedback from states, developers, and other stakeholders to codify a path for durable restoration and mitigation efforts on public lands.As described in the proposed rule, conservation leases would:
  • Support sustained yield through “restoration or land enhancement” or “mitigation” uses,
  • Be consistent with, and not override, valid existing rights,
  • Require land management to protect the goals of the leases but not interfere with casual use or other consistent uses,
  • Be applied for, granted, suspended, or terminated in processes similar to those employed under BLM’s current regulations for issuing leases, permits and easements (43 C.F.R. 2920)

The BLM is seeking feedback on the specific nature of the conservation leasing rules proposed. https://www.blm.gov/public-lands-rule#

2 FLPMA requires BLM to prioritize the designation and protection of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in land use plans. ACECs are a tool to protect historic, cultural and scenic resources. The proposed rule would not make any major changes to BLM’s existing practices in identifying and managing ACECs; rather it would provide consistent and clear direction on their use. . The BLM currently inventories, evaluates, and designates ACECs requiring special management direction as part of the land use planning process. As part of this rulemaking, the BLM proposes establishing procedures that ensure consideration of ecosystem resilience, including intact landscapes and habitat connectivity, in designating and managing ACECs.In more than 40 years of applying ACEC designations, the BLM has identified several needed revisions. Additionally, the BLM’s procedures for considering and designating potential ACECs are currently described partially in regulation and partially in agency policy. The proposed rule would codify these procedures in regulation, providing more cohesive direction and consistency to the agency’s ACEC designation process.https://www.blm.gov/public-lands-rule#
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