Outdoor groups laud order to ensure public access in BLM transactions

Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order March 21 directing the Bureau of Land Management to adequately weigh public access for outdoor recreation – including hunting and fishing – when determining the appropriateness of the disposal or exchange of public lands. Identifying lands as available for disposal or exchange is required under federal law, noted a press release from the acting secretary’s office.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 directs the BLM to identify lands for potential disposal or exchange, using a public process and with state and county involvement. BLM has carried out these provisions revising land use plans and disposal since 1976. However, the BLM’s criteria do not require the agency to weigh public access considerations for outdoor recreation (fishing, hunting, hiking, etc.).

Secretarial Order 3373, Evaluating Public Access in BLM Land Disposals and Exchanges directs the BLM to – for the first time ever – formally consider what impact the disposal or exchange of any BLM land will have on the public’s ability to access federal lands for recreation, according to the press release.

“This order will help ensure that the Bureau of Land Management considers public access to public lands,” said Bernhardt. “It requires that before the BLM exchanges or disposes of any land, they must first consider what impact the disposal or exchange of land will have on public access. The Trump administration will continue to prioritize access so that people can hunt, fish, camp, and recreate on our public lands.”

Added Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “Sportsmen and women across the West will benefit from this Interior Department action to sustain and enhance recreational access to BLM public lands. In some places, there are small parcels of BLM land that serve as the only means of nearby access to hunting and fishing or as the only access points to adjoining public lands managed by other agencies. The Secretarial Order will ensure that key parcels are valued for this recreational access and help keep these lands in the public’s hands.”

Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation said, “The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation commends Acting Secretary Bernhardt for prioritizing hunting and fishing access in BLM land tenure decisions. As chairman of the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, I look forward to working closely with the Interior Department to implement this important Secretarial Order on behalf of America’s sportsmen and women.”

Added Ed Carter, president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, “Getting the American public outside to recreate, on federal public lands, is important to fostering a healthy public and one that supports conservation. This SO ensures due diligence unto that end.”

Other accolades came from Timothy C. Brady, president of the Boone and Crockett Club. “Access to our nation’s vast public lands is of utmost importance, because where hunting and fishing happen, conservation happens. While the founders of the Boone and Crockett Club pioneered the development of the public land system Americans enjoy today, we must constantly work to improve access to public lands for a multitude of shared uses. This order that Acting Secretary Bernhardt has signed will help do just that. We commend him on his efforts in making access a priority. Thanks to his leadership, this necessity is finally becoming a reality.”

If a tract of BLM land is contiguous to public lands managed by another federal agency or state, the BLM will consult with the respective management agency to coordinate how best to ensure continued or improved public access to the adjoining tracts.

The BLM will evaluate the benefits of public access when considering future disposal actions, making it a requirement to identify alternatives to the public access that would be lost as a result of the BLM’s final action, according to the press release.

When a tract of BLM-managed land is being considered for disposal and has been identified as providing public access, the public access will be characterized for evaluation purposes as one of the value criteria supporting retention. Further, the BLM will ensure recreational public access to existing public lands is a factor when considering parcels resulting from an exchange.

Secretarial Order 3373 directs the BLM, when preparing documentation supporting the disposal or exchange of a tract of land, to include a discussion of the following in any decision document:

  • Existing recreational access that is utilized by the public or provided by road, trail, water, easement, or right-of-way, on the tract of BLM-managed public land being considered for disposal or exchange;
  • The impacts from the BLM-managed public land disposal or exchange decisions on recreational access to adjacent tracts of publicly accessible lands, including lands managed by other federal, state, and county agencies; and
  • Potential increased public recreational access to existing public lands resulting from an exchange.