The Biden Administration’s proposal for a new land management rule has come under scrutiny for its potential impact on public recreation and its bypassing of Congress’ authority to determine the use of federal lands. Released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in August 2023, the rule aims to prioritize the health and resilience of ecosystems on the land managed by the BLM.
Under this proposal, the concept of “conservation leases” is introduced, allowing individuals, companies, or non-profits to restore or protect the ecosystem on public land instead of engaging in activities like fish and wildlife development, outdoor recreation, or animal habitat promotion. Existing authorized activities would not be affected, but future leases would need to align with conservation objectives for the duration of their term.
Critics argue that this proposed rule goes beyond the constitutional authority of the executive branch. According to the Constitution, Congress has the exclusive power to regulate federal property, including public lands. While the Biden Administration cites the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 as its authority, opponents argue that the statute does not explicitly grant the BLM the power to issue leases exclusively for conservation.
Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding potential abuses and a lack of clear guidelines for public access under conservation leases. Areas under these leases could be temporarily closed to the public for up to ten years during restoration activities, potentially limiting public recreation opportunities.
In contrast to previous bipartisan efforts to update federal land management statutes, such as the Great American Outdoors Act, critics call for the Biden Administration to seek legislative approval for its policy vision. They emphasize the importance of honoring Congress’ constitutional power to regulate federal land, as it is a crucial democratic process that should not be bypassed.
The long-term success of this proposed rule remains uncertain, as it may face legal challenges or be reversed by future administrations. Critics urge the Biden Administration to pursue Congressional authorization for any significant changes to federal land management rules. They argue that a bipartisan approach and respect for the constitutional process are necessary for sustainable policy outcomes.