Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):
When the Interior Department issued a draft of a new Public Lands Rule, designed to “guide the balanced management of public lands” and put conservation on a par with other uses, like oil and gas drilling, grazing, and mining, I thought I had been transported back in time to 1976. That’s when Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, or FLPMA, which was supposed to elevate conservation and rid the Bureau of Land Management of the well deserved monicker: Bureau of Livestock and Mining.
FLPMA didn’t always do the job it intended: While the BLM as a whole has progressed, many of the agency’s field offices still behave as if it’s the 1950s, prioritizing drilling and grazing above all other uses, regardless of what policies are handed down from Washington.
Given that history, I wondered whether this proposed rule really amounted to more than merely “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” as the Center for Biological Diversity put it. If it was just reiterating FLPMA policies, how could it make any difference on the ground now? I don’t have the answer, but I did dig into the rule and looked at some of the details in a recent High Country News column.
To sum it up, the rule would elevate conservation by:
- … applying land health standards and guidelines to all BLM-managed public lands and uses; current BLM policy limits their application to grazing authorizations. The problem is that the agency is doing a piss-poor job applying land health standards to rangelands. So how can we expect them to do any better with other lands?
- … making conservation leases available to entities that seek to restore public lands or provide mitigation for a particular action. A nonprofit could lease a parcel, pay rent, and post a reclamation bond to do riparian area restoration, for example, or a solar company might lease a parcel to do some land-healing to offset its impacts to other public land.
- … amending the existing Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) regulations to emphasize the areas as the primary designation for protecting important natural, cultural, and scenic resources and contributing to ecosystem resilience by protecting intact landscapes and preserving habitat connectivity. It would also establish a more comprehensive framework for identifying and evaluating these areas.
The biggest change, then, appears to be the conservation leases. But it’s still unclear exactly how they’d work or what could be done with them. In theory, someone could lease out a parcel for conservation, thereby precluding grazing or oil and gas leasing from the parcel during the lease. But what happens when the lease term ends? Josh Osher, Public Policy Director for the Western Watersheds Project, pointed out that an organization could use the leases to, say, do a regenerative grazing project, and cynically use it to lock the land into a grazing lease afterwards. He also noted that even though oil and gas drilling and mining are restricted in ACECs, grazing typically is not.
This only reinforced my skepticism about the rule. But then I started looking at industry’s reactions to the rule and I have to say, I was a little taken aback.
Sen. John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican, compared the bureaucrats who wrote the “decree” to the tree-spiking eco-warriors of the 1980s, while the ranching industry feels “betrayed” by what it says is a plan to “eradicate” grazing on public lands. Say, what?!
Chris Saeger, an advocate and consultant from Montana, gathered some more responses and sent them my way, including these gems:
“‘[T]he administration is making a policy shift of gigantic proportions with this proposed rule by giving conservation equal footing to all other public land uses.’ – Mallori Miller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America
“‘The rule would make conservation one of the uses on equal footing as the uses listed above [grazing, water rights, oil, gas and mining].’ – Rancher Rachel Gabel
“‘[W]hen BLM is analyzing projects and uses because they are mandated as a multiple use public land agency, conservation will now have as much standing as recreation, grazing, mining and other uses as outlined in FLPMA.’ – Blue Ribbon Coalition Action Alert email, titled: Proposed BLM Rule to Devastate Public Land Access
“‘The Biden Administration has proposed significant changes to how federal lands are managed…with the department to issue conservation leases on par with grazing and mineral leases.’ – Rancher Cat Urbigkit“
And then there’s the reaction by Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Montana Republican. In a hearing, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the rule would put conservation on equal footing with other uses. Rosendale responded, rather testily: “Well, they’re not supposed to be on equal footing.”
Wow. Just wow. See, here I thought that conservation already was on an equal footing with drilling, mining, and so forth, as mandated by FLPMA. Obviously I was wrong! All of these folks are acknowledging that, in fact, the agency has been kowtowing to the oil and gas, drilling, and livestock industries all along while shirking their duties as stewards of the public’s land.
In that case, this new rule might actually have some real on the ground impacts. That is if the Biden administration implements it quickly enough to insulate it from future efforts to rescind it. And if they can ensure that the new policies are implemented on a field-office level rather than sitting around moldering on some Washington D.C. desk.
Speaking of the BLM, rules, and conservation … Back in 2020, the Trump administration (of course) quietly enacted the “Pinyon-Juniper Categorical Exclusion Rule.” It allowed the BLM to cut, hydro-mow, chain, or otherwise mechanically raze up to 10,000 acres of piñon-juniper forests without environmental review or even notifying the public. The BLM justifies these types of projects by saying they allow sagebrush to establish itself and benefit mule deer or sage grouse. They also can convert forest land into foraging land for cows.
Of course, these brutal and violent projects destroy not only the targeted trees, but also all of the other vegetation and the cryptobiotic soils. And they harm other species that rely on them for habitat, such as the piñon jay.
That’s why Defenders of Wildlife and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance challenged the rule in court, which in turn led to a court-approved settlement: The BLM has agreed to drop the rule. That won’t stop the projects altogether, but it will require the agency to analyze the environmental impacts before proceeding. It’s an important victory. But, to the Biden administration’s credit, it actually directed the agency to discontinue the use of the categorical exclusion rule in December.
Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Erica Rosenberg):
In 2017, the public lost 1,470 acres of wilderness-quality land at the base of Mount Sopris near Aspen, Colorado.
For decades, people had hiked and hunted on the Sopris land, yet the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) handed it over to Leslie Wexner, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret and other corporations, at his request. The so-called “equivalent terrain” he offered in return was no match for access to trails at the base of the 13,000-foot mountain.
This ill-considered trade reveals how land management agencies pander to wealthy interests, do not properly value public land, and restrict opportunities for public involvement. It’s an ongoing scandal in Colorado that receives little attention.
Since 2000, the BLM and the Forest Service have proposed over 150 land exchanges in Colorado. Last year alone, the agencies proposed to trade more than 4,500 acres of public lands, worth over $9 million, in three major Colorado land exchanges.
Land to be traded away includes precious riverfront, lands recommended for Wild and Scenic River designation, and hundreds of acres of prime hunting and recreation territory.
Public land exchanges can be a useful tool. Federal agencies use them to consolidate land holdings, improve public access, reduce management costs and protect watersheds.
By law, the trades must serve the public interest, and the land exchanged must be of equal value. The agencies are supposed to analyze, disclose and mitigate the impacts of relinquishing public lands in exchanges, and also solicit public input on whether a trade makes sense.
But here in Colorado — and elsewhere around the country — this management tool has been usurped by powerful players who aim to turn valuable public lands into private playgrounds.
Often, the deals proposed sound good in terms of acreage. In the Valle Seco Exchange, for example, the San Juan National Forest in southern Colorado would trade 380 acres for 880 acres of prime game-wintering habitat. But the trade mostly benefits the landowners pushing the exchange.
Public lands for trade in the Valle Seco Exchange include river access, corridors considered for Wild and Scenic River designation, wetlands, sensitive species habitat, and significant cultural sites.
Alarmingly, the Valle Seco exchange also includes more than 175 acres of a Colorado Roadless Area, a designation meant to block development of high-quality land. The exchange would allow a neighboring landowner to consolidate those 380 acres with his 3,000-plus acre ranch, opening the door to development.
The Valle Seco Exchange follows a long-standing pattern. “Exchange facilitators,” people familiar with the land-acquisition wish lists of agencies, help private landowners buy lands the agencies want. The landowners then threaten to manage and develop those lands in ways that undermine their integrity.
The Valle Seco proponents did this by closing formerly open gates and threatening to fence the 880 acres for a domestic elk farm and hunting lodge. This is blackmail on the range.
While catering to these private interests, the agencies suppress public scrutiny by refusing to share land appraisals and other documents with the public until afterthe public process has closed — or too late in the process to make it meaningful.
The proponents and their consultants have ready access to these documents, yet the public, which owns the land, does not. In Valle Seco, appraisals were completed in August 2020, but they weren’t released to the public until December 2021, just a few weeks before the scheduled decision date for the exchange. Advocates managed to pry the appraisals out of the agency only after submitting multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and taking legal action.
In another deal, the Blue Valley Exchange, the BLM also withheld drafts of the management agreements until just before releasing the final decision. This is hardly an open and fair public process.
The federal government presents what are, in effect, done deals. Development plans and appraisals are undisclosed and comment periods hindered. By prioritizing the proponents’ desires over public interests and process, the land management agencies abdicate their responsibilities.
The result is that too many land trades are nothing less than a betrayal of the public trust as the public loses access to its land as well as the land itself.
Erica Rosenberg is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit that works to spur lively conversation about Western issues. She is on the board of Colorado Wild Public Lands, a nonprofit in the town of Basalt that monitors land exchanges around the state.
Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Chase Woodruff):
In what’s become an annual tradition in the Colorado General Assembly, Democrats in the majority are spending the final weeks of the legislative session passing bills aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while their Republican colleagues persist in outright denial of the scientific consensus on manmade climate change.
Senate Bill 23-16, which would set new targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts while boosting clean energy and carbon-capture efforts, was given initial approval by the House on Wednesday evening — but not before Colorado GOP lawmakers reiterated their rejection of mainstream climate science.
In a nearly hourlong speech in opposition to the bill, state Rep. Ken DeGraaf, a Colorado Springs Republican, offered a grab-bag of debunked climate-denial talking points and half-truths, rehashing decades-old myths as he described concern over carbon dioxide’s role in global warming as “hysteria around a trace gas.”
“Carbon dioxide, god bless it — great for growing plants, but does really very little in terms of greenhouse gas,” DeGraaf said in his speech on the House floor.
It was the latest in a long series of reminders that GOP lawmakers remain committed to all-out climate misinformation as they battle Colorado Democrats’ clean-energy agenda at the Capitol.
“The crisis that we have is to spend as much money on the green energy cartel before everybody becomes aware that it’s not a real threat,” added DeGraaf.
In 2021, GOP Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert said of “so-called climate change” during a floor debate on an environmental justice bill that he did “not believe that it is man-made.” State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who lost narrowly last year to Democratic U.S. Rep. Yadira Caraveo in the race for the new 8th Congressional District, falsely claimed during her campaign that “to what extent any warming is a result of man-caused activity is unknown.”
In fact, climate scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that the Earth has warmed at an unprecedented rate since 1850, and the evidence of human influence is “unequivocal.”
“Evidence is overwhelming that the climate has indeed changed since the pre-industrial era and that human activities are the principal cause of that change,” concluded the IPCC’s 2021 report on the physical science of climate change, which was authored by 234 scientists from around the world and compiled the results of thousands of studies conducted over many decades.
SB-16, which had been poised to win final passage in the full House this week, would commit Colorado for the first time to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, revising the state’s current target up from a 90% reduction by that date, and setting other interim emissions goals.
“We know we need to get to 100%,” said state Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat, one of the bill’s House sponsors, during Wednesday’s floor debate. “We really need to set these goals out there, so that we’re aiming to get them, and having interim targets makes sure we’re on track.”
Denialist talking points
Telling his fellow lawmakers that he had “been studying this stuff for a long time,” DeGraaf read at length from printed material authored by prominent climate deniers and skeptics, including Judith Curry and Howard Hayden. Curry is a former atmospheric scientist with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hayden, a Pueblo resident, is a retired physics professor who has self-published a number of books denying the science of climate change, including “Bass Ackwards: How Climate Alarmists Confuse Cause with Effect.”
DeGraaf began his speech with one of the most frequently repeated talking points in climate-denial circles.
“Fifty years ago we were talking about global cooling, and now we’re talking about climate change,” he claimed.
A 2008 paper published by the American Meteorological Society called the past existence of a global-cooling consensus a “pervasive myth.” The hypothesis attracted only scant news coverage in the 1970s and was not at any point embraced by the scientific community at large. One of the most widely circulated claims involving global cooling — a purported Time Magazine cover warning of a “coming Ice Age” — is a hoax.
State Rep. Richard Holtorf, a Akron Republican, joined DeGraaf in denouncing the bill and repeating the global-cooling myth, arguing that “none of these predictions will come true, as they haven’t come true in the last 50 years.”
DeGraaf also argued that variations in solar radiation, rather than greenhouse gas emissions, have been responsible for the global temperature increases recorded over the last two centuries. In fact, the IPCC concluded again in 2021 that there has been “negligible long-term influence from solar activity” since 1900.
And DeGraaf’s repeated claim that global warming is driven by water vapor, rather than carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, is another assertion that has been widely shared among conservatives on social media and consistently debunked by climate scientists.
“Without the water vapor, global warming is a nonstarter,” DeGraaf said. “That’s the actual climate science. It’s water vapor.”
Water vapor makes up about 4% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Because it stores heat, it can be considered a greenhouse gas, and the potential for feedback loops caused by rising temperatures and a wetter atmosphere is an important factor in the climate models used by scientists to make long-term global warming projections.
But climatologists say there is overwhelming evidence that the “radiative forcing” of rising atmospheric concentrations of gases like carbon dioxide and methane is the primary driver of global warming. A researcher told AFP in 2021 that water vapor’s categorization as a greenhouse gas is “a great example of the practice of trying to confuse the public with information that is true but totally irrelevant.”
In February, DeGraaf, a first-term lawmaker who was elected in House District 22 last year, introduced a bill that would have “prohibit(ed) the classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant” in Colorado. The bill was defeated in the House Energy and Environment Committee, with all three of the committee’s Republicans voting in favor.
Rising global temperatures are the main driver of an ongoing “megadrought” in the Colorado River Basin more severe than any dry spell the region has experienced in at least the last 1,200 years, scientists say. Warmer, drier conditions have increased wildfire risk, and all of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado history have occurred since 2000.
SB-16 contains provisions aimed at boosting decarbonization efforts across a wide variety of industries, including tax incentives for electric-powered lawn equipment; measures to accelerate the construction of electricity transmission infrastructure and rooftop solar installation; stricter requirements on large insurance companies to assess climate risk; and more authority for state regulators to oversee carbon-capture projects.
“There’s probably something in here for everyone,” McCormick said Wednesday. “If you look, you’re going to find a section that you like.”
If passed by the House, the amended SB-16 would need to return to the Senate for a final vote before heading to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.