Thursday, December 8, 2016

Local districts' group: BLM rule 'a mixed bag'

From the National Association of Conservation Districts:
Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published its final planning rule, commonly referred to as “Planning 2.0,” in the Federal Register. The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) submitted comments on the proposed version of the planning rule in May 2016, and while it recognizes the agency has made improvements to the rule in its final form, it is still concerned the regulation inadequately acknowledges the critical importance of local involvement in the planning process.

“We commend the BLM for rising to the challenge and taking on a tremendously important topic: local participation in the management of public lands,” NACD President Lee McDaniel said. “That said, we are still concerned the final Planning 2.0 rule does not adequately foster local stakeholder participation in the planning process.”

“For one, the BLM’s rule would require that all land management plans used in the agency’s planning process be approved by local, state, or tribal governments. As an organization that represents thousands of local entities, we know just how resource-intensive and time consuming developing and approving these plans can be, and fear this provision could disincentivize local participation,” McDaniel continued. “In the past, local governments with policies and programs for public lands management were included in the BLM’s planning process, but now, unless they have an ‘official’ plan, these entities won’t be able to participate at the same level.”

NACD was also disappointed the final rule will not undergo a National Environmental Policy Act assessment, and it did not include a comprehensive update to the protest procedures.

NACD was pleased, however, with two major improvements made in the final rule. First, BLM upped the minimum durations for public comment periods on draft Environmental Impact Statements and Resource Management Plans from the proposed rule. It also designated BLM state directors the default “deciding officials” on multi-state projects on BLM managed land, allowing the BLM representative with the most intimate, local knowledge of the project area to manage the planning process.

“The BLM set out to increase local involvement in the planning process with this rule, and in part, has delivered on that mission,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters said. “NACD believes a comprehensive, locally led-strategy is the best approach to public-lands management and will continue to work with BLM to enhance local governments’ contribution to the planning process.”The Capital Press' John O'Connell reports on the rule here.

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