Today, the Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management released a final rule elevating the role of conservation in public lands management to match uses like fossil fuel extraction, improving the balance of its multiple-use mission. The Bureau manages 40% of all public lands—245 million acres primarily in the western U.S. With this rule, the agency is exercising its longstanding authority and responsibility under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to conserve these public lands in the public interest. The rule has the potential to better align public land management to respond to the interwoven climate and biodiversity crises. 

We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for seizing this opportunity to modernize public lands management for conservation and climate protection in the 21st Century,” said Barbara Chillcott, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “This change is a long time coming and will serve as a key tool to help the U.S. meet its climate goals. Because the U.S. and the world are decades behind in taking action to address the climate crisis, the Bureau must follow this path with all possible speed.” 

In 2022, WELC led a coalition of 30 environmental and community groups that petitioned the Department of Interior to pursue rulemaking to center public lands as the cornerstone of ecological and community resilience in the face of a changing climate.

“We are proud to have played a role in spurring this improvement for public lands through our petition for rulemaking, challenging bad oil and gas decisions, and furthering conservation of public lands for watershed and wildlife protection,” said Chillcott. 

The rule is wildly popular. Ninety-two percent of public comments supported placing public lands conservation on the same level as extraction. Eighty-two percent of voters in the Rocky Mountain West support a national goal of conserving public lands and waters in the next decade, including more than two-thirds of conservative Republican voters. In addition to public comments, Members of Congress, local elected officials, legal scholars, scientists, Attorneys General, former Bureau of Land Management officials, hunters and anglers and over 100 businesses, all support the Bureau’s Public Lands Rule. 

The rule upholds BLM’s core mission according to WELC experts, 8 state attorneys general, and 27 law professors. Valid existing rights to graze, mine, and drill will not be affected by the rule’s core provisions. 

Right now, public lands are, unfortunately, a major climate problem. For decades, the agency has favored extractive uses to an extreme degree, as exemplified by the 90% of its public lands the Bureau has made available for oil and gas leasing. Fossil fuel extraction from federal public lands is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate and community impacts. Interior’s highly permissive approach to oil and gas development of federal public lands and minerals has undercut the Biden administration’s ability to deliver on its climate commitments. Oil and gas companies own leases conveying the right to drill 26.6 million acres of federal public lands and minerals. Although nearly 53 percent of those leased acres are non-producing, 96,000 wells have already been drilled and Biden’s Interior has approved, without imposing any climate mitigation measures, an industry stockpile of more than 9,000 additional drilling permits.  

Barbara Chillcott, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-430-3023,

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