Cutting the public out of public lands

Federal land management agencies do just what their name implies: manage federal lands. They don't own the lands. They manage them on behalf of the owners--the American people. These agencies include the Bureau of Land Management (which manages 258 million acres), the Forest Service (which manages 193 million acres), the Fish and Wildlife Service (which manages wildlife refuges), and the National Park Service.  A lot of pristine land, old growth forest, wildlife habitat, clean water, and clean air is at stake.  Our federal laws give people the right to have a say in how those lands are managed.

When federal agencies want to propose a new plan or project involving public lands, the public has the right to comment on the proposal.  Once a decision has been made, the public then has the right to comment again and protest that decision if they disagree with it. The goal of this process is to give agency officials a chance to re-think their decisions and see if there is a way to resolve any controversy without having to go to court. 

If the Bush administration has its way, however, we don't always get this opportunity.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claims it can eliminate public protest of its decisions by having the Assistant Secretary of the Interior Department be the one to sign a decision, instead of a BLM official in the field.  Seems like it is pretty easy to change who signs a piece of paper.

Where is the BLM taking advantage of this loophole to cut out the public at the end of the Bush administration?

Oil shale: The BLM amended 12 land management plans for about 2 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming without allowing a protest. NRDC and our partners sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior stating that this was illegal.

West-wide energy corridors: The BLM approved a plan to allow more than 6,000 miles of electric power lines across nearly 3 million acres of public lands in 11 western states without allowing a public protest.

Wyoming: The BLM issued a new plan for leasing oil and gas in the Pinedale area of western Wyoming, covering about 200,000 acres, including critical wildlife habitat such as the ancient pronghorn migration corridor.

Montana: The BLM issued a new plan for leasing oil and gas throughout the state of Montana-covering about 1.5 million acres of land--and refused to let the public protest.

Oregon: The BLM tried to avoid public protests on six land management plans that would have nearly tripled commercial logging on 2.6 million acres in Oregon.  After environmentalists threatened to sue, the agency announced it would allow protests.

It's time to put the public back in public lands.