US will lease public lands for conservation under new policy

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 12:42 PM

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday finalized new measures to protect the health of U.S. public lands, including by leasing acreage for conservation in much the same way as it offers land for development like drilling, mining and grazing.

The regulations from the Interior Department will help guard nearly a tenth of America’s land base from the impact of climate change and enable industries to offset their environmental footprints, the agency said.

The move is consistent with the administration’s goal to put climate change at the center of agency decisions and with Biden’s pledge to conserve 30% of America’s land and water.

The rule’s draft form, unveiled last year, was welcomed by conservation groups but opposed by ranchers and others who said they were concerned that leases granted for conservation would displace land uses like grazing.

The so-called Public Lands Rule clarifies that conservation is on par with other uses of public lands and directs the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to consider land health when making decisions.

It also creates a new system whereby acreage can be leased to restore degraded landscapes or mitigate impacts from development on other public lands. The leases would not conflict with existing uses, the agency said.

“As stewards of America’s public lands, the Interior Department takes seriously our role in helping bolster landscape resilience in the face of worsening climate impacts,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

“Today’s final rule helps restore balance to our public lands as we continue using the best-available science to restore habitats, guide strategic and responsible development, and sustain our public lands for generations to come.”

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)