Secretarial order signed to improve public access to federal lands

By Laura Bies

A new Department of Interior policy requires more consideration for public access concerns. ©Bob Wick/BLM

Last week, acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed a new secretarial order related to public access for outdoor recreation on public lands.

This is one of two new secretarial orders Bernhardt announced at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resource Conference that he would soon be signing.

Secretarial Order 3373, Evaluating Public Access in BLM Land Disposals and Exchanges, requires the Bureau of Land Management to consider the impact on public access for outdoor recreational activities like hunting and fishing when the agency is selling or exchanging lands.

Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the BLM must identify public lands to potentially exchange or sell through a public process, which takes into consideration factors including whether the exchange would be in the public interest. Until now, that process was not required to specifically take into account public access considerations for outdoor recreation such as hunting or fishing. 

Under the new order, when the BLM is determining if a real estate transaction is appropriate, it will consider whether the transaction will affect public access for outdoor recreation. If public access will be lost or impacted by the sale or exchange, the BLM must identify alternatives. The order also requires that when the tract of public land in question is contiguous to other public lands managed by another federal agency or the state, the BLM must work with that agency to coordinate continued access to the adjacent tracts. 

The other potential secretarial order would expand a previous order, Secretarial Order 3362, issued by former secretary Ryan Zinke in February 2018, which focused on maintaining and conserving migration route corridors for elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) in 11 Western states.  

The new order would expand the scope to include bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and moose (Alces alces), and their summer range. That order has not yet been signed. 

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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