Why is the Government Taking our Land?
By Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Margaret Byfield
The piece was originally published in The Washington Times.
As one of his first actions in office, President Biden signed an executive order calling for at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters to be conserved by 2030. This program, commonly referred to as 30×30, was launched without congressional or constitutional authority, leading to an immediate and justified outcry against federal overreach.
The Biden administration argues the program is needed to mitigate climate change and calls for more federal restrictions. Yet these solutions will not stop the devastating wildfires we are witnessing, eradicate invasive weeds, restore our watersheds, or help in recovering species. Rather, seizing more control over America’s lands will lead to more of the same results.
The 30×30 program backlash has caused the administration to advance its agenda using administrative avenues. In April, the Biden administration took the boldest step to date when the Bureau of Land Management circumvented Congress to issue its Conservation and Landscape Health proposed rule.
The rule will significantly restrict resource development on federal lands while prioritizing “conservation” over statutorily defined multiple uses. The agency audaciously proposed the rule outside all of the checks and balances Congress has placed on the rulemaking process. If left to stand, it will affect 240 million acres managed by BLM, as well as every rural community in the West.
First, some context. When Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act — the seminal law that directs how BLM lands are to be managed — it was to ensure the lands would always be open to multiple uses, such as recreation, grazing, mining, and oil and gas development.
The law directs BLM to manage these resources to ensure the land, wildlife, and local economies flourish. If the agency now argues the lands are so degraded, they must be “protected and restored,” as cited in the proposed BLM rule, it is clear the agency has failed in its mission.
But we know this is not the case. We have decades of proof that effective conservation and public access to lands, including for recreational and even commercial uses, are not mutually exclusive. Instead, conservation is made more effective by multiple uses, responsible development, and active private management.
Our longest-standing partners in land stewardship are our ranchers, sportsmen, foresters, mineral and energy developers, and landowners. No one knows better the importance of stewarding our lands than the citizens whose livelihoods depend on these resources.
Every American who visits and enjoys our federal lands needs the rural communities in these areas to thrive as well. The counties maintain the roads, fund the hospitals, and answer the search and rescue calls that make visiting federal lands a safe and good experience. Local taxpayers — not federal agencies — fund these services.
Leasing the lands for conservation only instead of the fuller array of authorized multiple uses will undermine local economies, making it impractical for Americans to enjoy the lands at all. The result will be no hunting, no fishing, and no recreation on these lands of any kind.
If the Biden administration’s priority is “tackling climate change” rather than demonizing citizens who are the best stewards of our lands, federal agencies should support their time-tested, science-based practices. These landowners know how to produce the best conservation outcomes for our lands and waters.
So, why is the Bureau of Land Management attempting to bypass Congress and change decades of proven best practice? That’s a question only the Biden administration can answer, and Congress should ask.
This proposed rule, Conservation and Landscape Health, has been published in the Federal Register and is open for comments until July 5, 2023. Click here to view and comment.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, Washington Republican, is chairman of the House Western Caucus, and Margaret Byfield is executive director of Stewards of Liberty.