BLM planning proposal moves forward despite controversy

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to reform agency management planning is slowly moving forward, with plenty of discussion and debate in the halls of Congress. This proposal – known as Planning 2.0 – originated in May 2014 and has been widely contested due to the significant implications the plan has to how BLM conducts land management.

Planning 2.0 aims to make BLM management activities more effective by streamlining the administrative processes involved with managing federal land. BLM currently manages the activities and uses of public lands – including identifying wildlife management objectives in collaboration with state agencies – based on proposals outlined in Resource Management Plans. The process for revising these plans can be expensive and time consuming – often taking years to complete – thereby limiting BLM’s capacity to update or improve land management strategies. One of the primary goals of the Planning 2.0 proposal is to make these Resource Management Plans easier to update by increasing public involvement during the initial planning process. Through this preliminary assessment, the agency can more efficiently address public concerns while building a common understanding of resource conditions, leading to more effective and comprehensive management of public lands.

The House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hosted an oversight hearing on July 7 to review the agency’s proposed rule, continuing previous congressional discussions focused on state-level perspectives towards Planning 2.0. Of particular interest at this hearing was the testimony of Jim Lyons, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management for the Department of the Interior. In his testimony, Lyons explained how the current BLM planning process was “the source of frustration” for many parties, indicating the need for the type of revisions called for in Planning 2.0. As a federal administrative representative, Lyons added insight to this hearing that was unique from other Planning 2.0 discussions.

“These proposed rules are really built on the foundation of the current planning process,” Lyons said, “but they represent a sincere and serious effort to try to address the many concerns and complaints that have been raised by a wide range of stakeholders with regard to the BLM planning process.”

Unfortunately, despite BLM’s efforts, there are significant concerns surrounding Planning 2.0. Many criticize the proposal’s plan to shift a large portion of land planning activity to Washington, D.C. rather than allowing it to remain within the jurisdiction of BLM field offices. Critics say that this shift would impede coordinated efforts between BLM and state and local agencies. Further criticism is targeted towards revisions to the public comment process for proposed BLM activity. Planning 2.0 would shorten public comment periods on management proposals, focusing instead on increased public involvement in the initial phases of development for Resource Management Plans. This idea has been met with some opposition and concern from the public as well as state and federal officials. BLM is considering alterations to the Planning 2.0 proposal that take these critiques into consideration.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have concerns about the Planning 2.0 proposal, expressed within each chamber’s version of the Department of the Interior appropriations bill that is currently being discussed. For example, the House version of the bill contains a rider that threatens to block the Planning 2.0 proposal from moving forward unless BLM agrees to remove the public comment period modifications from the proposed rule.

Read more about BLM’s Planning 2.0 and the recent oversight hearing, and listen to testimony by Jim Lyons and others.

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