The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse range in southeastern Montana is one of the areas in Montana overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, which is weighing a rule to put conservation priorities on equal footing with other land uses, such as oil and gas leasing. Credit: Adobe stock. May not be republished without license.

This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

Through June 20, the Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments on a proposal that the agency put conservation priorities — e.g., ecological health and the “resilience of renewable resources” — on equal footing with long-established agency objectives such as livestock grazing and oil, gas and coal leasing.

More specifically, the proposed rule would establish conservation as a “use” under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in an effort to “protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and make wise management decisions based on science and data.” As proposed, the new rule would allow the BLM to lease land to tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, individuals or businesses for conservation purposes. According to an Interior Department release, such leases could be used to protect wildlife migration corridors, for example, or establish carbon markets. In the latter example, the BLM might accept payment for a 10-year lease to leave a grassland undisturbed for carbon sequestration purposes.

Broadly speaking, the proposal has been cheered by conservationists and blasted by oil and gas groups and agricultural organizations.

Perhaps no other federal land-managing entity has seen more change under the administration of President Joe Biden than the BLM. Per Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the BLM in 2022 made sweeping reforms to its oil and gas leasing program after instituting a temporary moratorium on new leases as part of Biden’s climate agenda. More recently, the agency announced plans to introduce a utility-scale solar leasing program in five western states, including Montana.

The BLM manages nearly one-tenth of the United States’ landmass, or 245 million acres. The agency is the second-largest land manager in Montana, providing oversight of 8 million acres of land in addition to 47 million acres of federal mineral estate. Tracy Stone-Manning, a Montanan who formerly headed the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and worked with the National Wildlife Federation, is the BLM’s director.

Comments can be submitted to the Federal Register here. As of May 26, more than 45,000 comments on the proposal have been submitted. The agency is hosting a virtual webinar on the proposal on June 5, at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time.


Amanda Eggert studied print journalism at the University of Montana. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, Amanda spent four years working with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. After leaving the Forest Service in 2014, Amanda worked for Outside magazine as an editorial fellow before joining Outlaw Partners’ staff to lead coverage for Explore Big Sky newspaper and contribute writing and editing to Explore Yellowstone and Mountain Outlaw magazines. Prior to joining Montana Free Press’ staff in 2021 Amanda was a freelance writer, researcher and interviewer. In addition to writing...