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Upcoming public lands rule looks to reform conservation, recreation

Daniel Dyer

This spring, a much-anticipated and widely praised rule will fundamentally transform how 245 million acres of public lands across the U.S. is managed to emphasize conservation and wider public access.

While we don’t know the exact details of the upcoming final rule, environmentalists are labeling it as a “once-in-a-generation” revamp of how the federal government manages our public resources.

“These are the places that increasingly people are going to recreate, they take their families out, they go to enjoy the outdoors,” said Michael Carroll, a campaign director with the Wilderness Society. “It’s a huge deal and everyone should get involved.”

First proposed last March, the rule marks a shift within the Bureau of Land Management or BLM to rebalance land management decisions around climate change, the increasing demand for recreation, and the landscape’s overall health.

Among many changes, it clarifies and expands existing regulations in certain areas to protect important historical, cultural, and natural resources – like the Otero Mesa desert grasslands in southern New Mexico.

“It supports tons of birds, it supports one of New Mexico's last native pronghorn herds, it's important to indigenous people that have relied on and consider that a culturally significant landscape,” said Sally Paez, an attorney with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “It's just a beautiful, wild, natural area…”

The agency will also offer an alternative to its oil and gas lease program called a “conservation lease,” so the public can directly support the protection and restoration efforts of public lands.

BLM currently manages over 34,400 oil and gas leases, covering over 23.7 million acres. The agency is the largest land manager in New Mexico.

The finalized rule is expected to be released sometime in the coming months and has wide support from New Mexico’s congressional delegation and governor.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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