Federal Agency Failing To Protect America's Public Lands

As Senate holds confirmation hearings for new BLM director, groups challenge agency to chart new course for conservation

WASHINGTON (November 13, 2001) -- The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is failing to protect the long-term health of America's public lands and the tremendous natural resources they support, according to a new report released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

According to the report, significant programmatic and organizational changes are necessary to correct past mistakes and ensure sustainable future management of the more than 264 million acres of public lands, under BLM's stewardship. The report sets the bar for performance by a new BLM Director, a position for which President Bush has nominated Kathleen Clarke.

"The BLM manages more land than the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service combined," said NWF Southwest Regional Vice President, Susan Rieff. "If Kathleen Clarke is confirmed as its new director, her Congressionally mandated task will be as sweeping and important as the landscape she will manage -- to guarantee the long-term stewardship of the public lands by transforming the policies and practices of the BLM. We hope the recommendations in this report can provide a guide for the new director and help chart a positive course for these biologically-important lands."

Although it is less well known than other federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service, the BLM manages some of the most diverse and beautiful lands in the United States including landscapes dominated by extensive grasslands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra, and deserts. Sound management of these lands now requires that the BLM address challenges such as loss of keystone and endangered species, pollution of watersheds, and urban sprawl that were never envisioned when the organization was established 55 years ago. But the agency's structure, budget, operations and culture remain rooted in an earlier era when the government's chief priorities for the public lands were disposal and exploitation.

"The new BLM Director will be faced with the difficult challenge of reconciling the Administration's demands for increased energy production from the public lands with the urgent need to restore past environmental damage and to strengthen wildlife and watershed conservation on these same landscapes," continued Rieff. "With these recommendations, we believe she can find a way to manage the public lands for the benefit of people and wildlife."

Specific recommendations for strengthening conservation management of the public lands include:

  • Making the new National Monuments and National Conservation Areas under the National Landscape Conservation System "centers of excellence," raising the profile of BLM's conservation role both internally and externally. These are truly are "crown jewels" our public lands and must be managed in a way that ensures our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy their natural wonders.

  • Committing to sound land-use planning by updating land-use plans. Land use plans for more than 60 areas -- that's more than one-third of all areas the BLM manages -- are more than 20 years old, making it impossible for the BLM to make informed decisions regarding today's conservation challenges.

  • Integrating land health standards into all public land management and decision-making processes, to ensure that the long-term health of these lands, which belong to all citizens, is maintained.

  • Pursuing strategic and thoughtful land exchanges, adjustments, and large-scale consolidations to improve conservation management of key landscapes.

  • Diversifying, increasing, and strengthening its workforce to adequately address today's recreation and species-loss challenges and to meet monitoring needs.

"The task ahead for any new BLM director is daunting," said NRDC's Land Program Director, Johanna Wald. "But for all of the challenges outlined in the report, there are even more opportunities to lead the BLM to fulfill its mission of protecting our nation's critical lands for future generations. We hope Kathleen Clarke will do what no other BLM director has been able to do -- make the BLM the agency Congress asked it to be more than 25 years ago."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The nation's largest member-supported conservation education and advocacy group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife and the world we all share. The Federation has educated and inspired families to uphold America's conservation tradition since 1936.

Related Links

The full report, Conservation Management of America's Public Lands, is available on the Web at www.nwf.org/grasslands/pdfs/conservationmanagement.pdf.