Update: The U.S. House passed H.J. Res. 44 on a 234-186 vote Feb. 7.
A resolution sponsored by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney lays bare the struggle over Western public lands and what voice local communities should have when compared to the rest of the American public.
Cheney (R-Wyo) would kill a federal land management rule promulgated under former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the Obama administration. Jewell supporters said her rule increased nimbleness and responsiveness in managing more than 245 million Bureau of Land Management acres nationwide. The changes were necessary to keep pace with an evolving society and shifting environment, the former secretary said.
The “Planning 2.0” effort, Obama administration managers said, would allow them to take a landscape view of the federal estate. “These lands belong to all of us,” Jewell said in a video announcing the rule. “It’s important that everyone’s voice is heard.
But critics claim the 367-page regulation would undercut local influence, in addition to other flaws. Even though the Planning 2.0 debate was conducted in the tedious jargon of land management plans, laws, and rules, it attracted close attention from both sides of the public lands debate — conservationists and consumptive users alike.
“We have a real concern,” the Wyoming State Grazing Board wrote when Planning 2.0 was being adopted, “that many of the items in the proposed rule will increase the influence of those who do not support multiple use and sustained yield as the overriding mandate from Congress to the BLM.” Many other BLM users agreed, including the Public Lands Council that supports cattle and sheep producers.
“…[T]hose directly affected need to have a seat at the table, not be lumped in with the public,” Executive Director Ethan Lane wrote. “There should be delineation between the interested public and stakeholders.”
In a cover letter to a slew of comments from Wyoming agencies, Gov. Matt Mead also opposed former Secretary Jewell’s initiative. “This Proposed Rule would ignore local ‘policies, programs, and processes’ in favor of ‘social change,’” Mead wrote. “BLM’s decisions must be made based [on] the local communities most affected by these decisions and not remote and unconnected public opinion.”
Floor vote could happen today
Cheney introduced H.J. Res. 44 Jan. 30 under the auspices of the Congressional Review Act. Her resolution would declare that Planning 2.0 “shall have no force or effect.” She has 15 co-sponsors.
The rule “undermines local land management, dilutes the authority of our county commissioners, and opens up the possibility that foreign non-governmental organizations would have input in Wyoming’s land use management planning process,” Cheney said in a statement.
She and her supporters called the rule a midnight regulation and an 11th-hour gambit. Public involvement began in February 2016. The BLM received 3,354 comments and responded in a 977-page document. The Nature Conservancy, which supported the new rule, said it was the result of a multi-year effort by the BLM, and updated practices “for the first time in more than three decades.”
Cheney’s resolution will go to the House floor for a vote today, said Shaleas Harrison, wild lands community organizer for the Wyoming Wilderness Association. If Cheney’s resolution is successful, the rule may not be reissued in “substantially the same form” without an act of Congress, Harrison said. “This would strip incoming Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and his new BLM director of the authority to reformulate Planning 2.0, or even go back to the drawing board to devise a new planning rule,” Harrison said in a statement.
Others supporting Jewell’s initiative described it in terms opposite those employed by Cheney and her camp.
“The new rule gives all land users more opportunities to make their voices heard, whether they are recreationists, ranchers, scientists, local governments, or the energy industry,” the conservation-advocacy group BLM Wild said. Cheney’s resolution would “set land use planning back 34 years — [to] a time when the public was kept in the dark until very late in the process,” the group said in a statement.
In supporting the plan, The Wilderness Society quoted Jewell’s description of the necessity of landscape-scale coordination. The average randomly selected site in the West is 3 1/2 miles from some form of human development, Jewell said. “It’s a great statistic if you’re a lost hiker looking to be rescued, but it has highly alarming implications for the mule deer or grizzly bear who need connected corridors to survive.”
Defenders of Wildlife said Jewell’s rule did not go far enough in considering endangered species, among other things.