As we celebrate National Public Lands Day this Saturday, we turn our attention to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM managed one of 10 acres in the country from the famed deserts of the Southwest to the breathtaking shores of Northern California. The lands managed by BLM are essential for biodiversity conservation and climate resilience, as well as cultural heritage preservation and clean energy delivery.
It’s hard to overstate the role this agency plays in protecting the biodiversity and ecosystems on our public lands, and its role in achieving the goal of protecting 30 percent of our land and water bodies by 2030. The good news is that BLM has powerful tools at its fingertips to protect our priceless and diverse natural heritage.
Here are four steps BLM can take to deliver on the promise of 30×30 and protect the biodiversity it is charged with managing:
- Invest in community engagement: Thoughtful community input is central to shaping good land use planning and management. Local communities are the first to notice the changes on the ground due to climate change and are critical in providing information that helps public land managers manage land in an ever-changing and complex time. Community engagement will be critical to the 30×30 effort and its power to address biodiversity loss and climate change.
- Leverage existing tools and authorities: The good news is that BLM has a robust toolbox to protect wildlife corridors, restore damaged landscapes, and protect our remaining wildlife areas. Some of the most important are:
- Areas of Critical Environmental Concern are special designations on BLM sites that protect rare and valuable resources from volcanic craters to habitats for endangered species.
- Wilderness Study Areas are one of the most powerful tools currently available to the BLM to permanently protect biologically important areas. This category of land is part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands System, which includes some of the biologically most important lands under the BLM’s administration.
- Wildlife Corridors: Movement through landscapes is critical to biodiversity, and connecting protected habitats through wildlife corridors is critical to the 30×30 effort. Connected landscapes are also resilient landscapes where species have the space they need to adapt to climate change.
- Tribal Co-Management: The Department of the Interior recently finalized new guidance to improve federal stewardship of public lands, wildlife and water by strengthening the role of tribal governments in federal land stewardship. BLM should work closely with interested tribes to collaborate in the joint stewardship of the lands they administer.
- Increase biodiversity protection: As a multi-use agency, the BLM has much to balance in its land management responsibilities. To address the biodiversity and climate crisis, the agency’s head must make focused efforts to uplift biodiversity in pending regulatory changes, revisions to resource management plans, and broader planning efforts such as the currently ongoing revision of sage grouse management plans.
- Start a healthy river landscape iinitiative: In the west, riparian and wetland areas occupy a very small part of the landscape (1 to 2 percent) but support a staggering 80% of biodiversity. When we restore riverine landscapes, we provide a habitat for fish and wildlife they need to thrive and adapt to a changing climate. Healthy river landscapes also provide community benefits, including clean water, water storage and natural firebreaks.
Finally, we should not forget that Congress must provide the necessary resources for this agency to carry out the task that we have asked it to do. As the bureau rebuilds after the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle it, funding for both programs and full-time staff with expertise relevant to 21’s challenges will become more important than everSt century land manager.
All of these elements must come into play if BLM is to play a key role in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis. Now more than ever, bold conservation measures are needed to enable the agency to fulfill its multi-use mandate. And as the country’s largest federal land manager, its role in managing these interconnected crises will only become more important over time.