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Noem opposes BLM rule on conservation leases

Gov. Kristi Noem testifying before the House Natural Resources committee.
House Committee on Natural Resources GOP
Gov. Kristi Noem testifying before the House Natural Resources committee.

Gov. Kristi Noem is urging Congress to halt a proposed Bureau of Land Management rule to increase considerations for conservation when issuing leases.

She said the agency’s rule oversteps its authority.

The Bureau of Land Management wants to boost how conservation is weighed when issuing leases on land it manages. The agency said it will put conservation leases on par with other types of leases.

Noem testified Thursday in favor of a US House bill to require BLM to withdraw its rule. Noem said BLM lacks authority to pursue this rule, which she said will prioritize conservation.

“There’s no consequences for violations of these conservation leases, as well. No punishment if the rules of game are not followed,” Noem said. “What’s interesting to me is there’s no guidelines on who can purchase a conservation lease and who can’t. What’s to prevent China from purchasing up conservation leases on our federal lands?”

Noem said the rule will harm ranchers in South Dakota, who may lose grazing leases if BLM picks conservation instead.

BLM is a big player in many western states. It manages over 60 percent of land located in Nevada and 42 percent in Utah.

There are 275,881 acres of BLM land in South Dakota, which is .056 percent of the state’s total acreage. The land is located mostly in the northwest.

South Dakota Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson are also expressing their opposition to the rule. In an emailed statement, they said the rule prioritizes conservation over current standards for multiple-use lands.

In its proposed rules in the federal register, the BLM said the provision is not intended to preclude other uses on the land, such as grazing, mining and recreation.

"Conservation leases should not disturb existing authorizations, valid existing rights, or state or Tribal land use management," the BLM said in its proposed rule. "Rather, this proposed rule is intended to raise conservation up to be on par with other uses under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield."

It is common for the agency to layer leases. Grazing and oil and gas leases are often issued for the same location.

Supporters of the rule say it’ll help preserve the nation’s public lands and resources.

Representative Melanie Stansbury is a Democrat from New Mexico. She supports the rule change and has seen a similar program work in her state.

“The rule is not designed to try to take ranchers and their livestock off of our public lands," Stansbury said. "That’s just not the case.”

Supporters said if the rule goes into place BLM decisions on which leases to grant will still get made by a local BLM office.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.