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Conservation and Indigenous groups applaud new BLM land use rule

Part of the proposed new Esmeralda/Fish Lake Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)
Friends of Nevada Wilderness
Part of the proposed new Esmeralda/Fish Lake Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)

On April 18, the Bureau of Land Management issued long-awaited revised rules for public lands usedecisions. In a nutshell, they say that BLM managers have to balance consideration all public uses — including conservation, development, extraction, recreation, sports, etc. — with a consideration of climate change's impacts on the land into their decisions to make management plans for and approve projects on public lands.

Conservation and Indigenous groups applauded the new rule, while developers remained largely silent, signaling the BLM's shift away from prioritizing grazing, real estate, and resource extraction.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness Executive Director Shaaron Netherton told KNPR's State of Nevada that the new rules are "a big deal" because they were such a long time coming and so sorely needed. "It's high time for BLM to re-look at how it does its land-use planning and where it puts its priorities," Netherton said. "Our public lands are facing so many challenges right now with drought, wildfires, weeds, and so, it's really time that's all taken into account when BLM manages these lands that belong to all of us."

More than 90 percent of public comments made during the period when the BLM was collecting feedback expressed support for the rules including greater emphasis on conservation. Many other environmental nonprofits, besides Friends of Nevada Wilderness, applauded the final rules.

In addition, Indigenous Voices of Nevada issued a statement voicing its support. "We are deeply heartened by the Biden Administration’s commitment to a holistic and inclusive approach to managing our public lands — a commitment that reflects a profound respect for the interconnectedness of land, sea, and people that is central to Indigenous values," Taylor Patterson, the group's executive director said. "This landmark rule acknowledges the sacred relationship Indigenous communities have with these territories, advancing the protection of our cultural heritage and the natural environment."

The purpose of the rule, according to the BLM, is to facilitate healthy wildlife habitat, clean water, and eco-system resilience, so that public lands can better resist and recover from disturbances like drought and wildfire. Netherton pointed out that it also provides for more effective mitigation measures that allow developers to compensate for any damage they do to public lands by paying into a fund for restoration habitat in other areas.

Netherton noted that the 1976 Federal Lands Policy Management Policy gave BLM a multiple-use mandate, but that the agency's interpretation of the mandate had caused it to favor "consumptive use," or uses that result in commercial profit, such as mineral extraction or renewable energy development. This new guidance represents a re-interpretation of that mandate, acknowledging the changing circumstances brought on by climate change, such as prolonged periods of drought and more frequent wildfires.

Guest: Shaaron Netherton, executive director, Friends of Nevada Wilderness

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and KNPR's State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022. In 2024, CEO Favian Perez promoted Heidi to managing editor, charged with integrating the Desert Companion and State of Nevada newsroom operations.