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.
The state’s lawsuit wants a judge to clarify how tax cap law applies to ‘95 mills’ property tax collected for school funding equalization.
Bozeman attorney Ben Alke, a Democrat, has launched his campaign for state attorney general, attacking incumbent Republican Austin Knudsen in a biting speech to supporters at the Helena taproom operated by the Montana Department of Justice’s most recent Democratic chief.
Citing concerns among Montana businesses about a lack of interpersonal skills in the workforce, Miles Community College is looking to quickly expand the number of high schools participating in its latest career development course.