Interior Department Rescinds Key Conservation Policies:
Move Continues Pattern of Dismantling Fundamental Conservation Tools
ARLINGTON, Va. | July 25, 2018
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) yesterday announced a significant policy reversal that constrains the ability of agency field staff to utilize conservation measures to meet the agency’s multiple-use mandate on public lands.
The agency announced it would no longer require compensatory mitigation to address impacts from development on public lands. The BLM has long used mitigation – the practice of avoiding and minimizing the impacts of development and then offsetting those impacts with conservation actions elsewhere – to meet the agency’s multiple-use and sustained-yield mandates. In addition to allowing BLM to conserve and protect important public lands, mitigation also reduces project review times and costs for developers.
This announcement is the latest in a series of moves by the Department of the Interior (DOI) asserting its agencies cannot utilize mitigation as a tool to meet their statutory obligations unless explicitly authorized by congressional statute. This counters the long-standing legal deference afforded to administrative agencies to use their discretion to fashion reasonable policies that meet congressional statutory intent even where no statutory language providing explicit authorization exists.
Late last year, DOI rescinded its Landscape-Scale Mitigation Policy, two BLM mitigation policies and a Solicitor’s Opinion outlining the agency’s authority to require mitigation. Coupled with yesterday’s decision, these moves are likely to lead to the outright loss of valuable habitat, the degradation of habitat from the incremental implementation of small projects over time and increase the likelihood of more species’ imperilment in the future. Unfortunately, by severely limiting BLM’s ability to use mitigation, this action removes a valuable tool that has been proven to improve project design and speed up project review and permitting processes.
“The fundamental legal underpinning of BLM’s authority combined with long-held precedent both provide the agency with ample discretion to utilize mitigation to protect habitat and conserve our public lands,” said The Nature Conservancy Co-Chief External Affairs Officer Lynn Scarlett. “This decision is a tremendous disappointment. It is the latest in a series of steps by the department that collectively amount to eroding even the most basic and fundamental conservation tools that have been in place for decades. This latest interpretation on mitigation, when combined with rollbacks of protections for migratory birds, shrinking of national monuments and more, all undermine conservation efforts that are core to the Department of the Interior’s mission.
“The Nature Conservancy fully recognizes that BLM has a mandate to allow for the use of our public lands, but it also is directed by Congress to meet ‘the long-term needs of future generations’ for a wide variety of resources, including wildlife, scenic, scientific and historical values. This action severely constrains the tools available to field staff to meet the agency’s conservation mission, and moves BLM away from its statutory mission of balancing conservation, economic, recreational and other land management goals.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.