As we celebrate National Public Lands Day this Saturday, we shine the spotlight on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM manages one on 10 acres in the country from the iconic deserts of the Southwest to the stunning coastlines of Northern California. The lands managed by BLM are essential for ensuring biodiversity conservation and climate resilience, as well as for preserving cultural assets and providing clean energy.
It is difficult to overestimate the role this agency plays in protecting the diversity of species and ecosystems on our public lands and its role in achieving the goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters from by 2030. The good news is that BLM has powerful tools at its fingertips to protect our priceless and diverse natural heritage.
Here are four actions BLM can take to deliver on the 30×30 promise and protect the biodiversity it is charged with managing:
- Invest in community engagement: Thoughtful community input is essential to shape good land use planning and management. Local communities are the first to notice the changes happening on the ground due to climate change and are key to providing information that helps public land managers manage land in complex and ever-changing times. Community engagement will be essential to the 30×30 effort and its power to combat biodiversity loss and climate change.
- Use existing tools and authorities: The good news is that BLM has a robust toolkit to protect wildlife corridors, restore damaged landscapes, and protect our remaining wild lands. Some of the most important are:
- Areas of Critical Environmental Concern are special designations on BLM lands that protect rare and valuable resources from volcanic craters to habitat for species at risk.
- Wilderness Study Areas are one of the most powerful tools currently available to the BLM for the sustainable protection of biologically significant areas. This land category is part of the BLM National Conservation Lands System, which includes some of the most biologically significant lands under the stewardship of the BLM.
- Wildlife Corridors: Movement across landscapes is essential for biodiversity and connecting protected habitat areas with wildlife corridors is essential for the 30×30 effort. Connected landscapes are also resilient landscapes where species have the leeway they need to adapt to climate change.
- Tribal co-management: The Department of the Interior recently finalized new guidelines to improve federal management of public lands, wildlife, and waters by strengthening the role of tribal governments in the management of federal lands. BLM should work closely with interested tribes to collaborate in the co-stewardship of the lands it manages.
- Improving the protection of biodiversity: As a multipurpose agency, BLM has a lot to balance in its land management responsibilities. To address the biodiversity and climate crises, the agency must make a focused effort to elevate biodiversity in pending regulatory changes, resource management plan revisions, and broader planning efforts such as the revision Sage-grouse management plans currently underway.
- Start a healthy river landscape iinitiative: In the West, riparian zones and wetlands occupy a very small part of the landscape (1 to 2 percent), but they are home to an incredible 80% of biodiversity. When we restore river landscapes, we provide fish and wildlife with the habitat they need to thrive and adapt to climate change. Healthy river landscapes also provide community benefits, including cleaner water, water storage, and natural firebreaks.
Finally, let’s not forget that Congress must provide the necessary funding for this agency to do the work we have entrusted to it. As the Bureau rebuilds following the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle it, funding will be more critical than ever, both for programs and for full-time staff with expertise relevant to the challenges facing 21st land managers of the century.
All of these must come into play if BLM is to play a key role in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Bold conservation actions are needed more than ever if the agency is to fulfill its multipurpose mandate. And as the nation’s largest federal land manager, its role in addressing these interrelated crises will only grow in importance over time.