Biden administration issues final rule to allow local agencies to lease some federal lands

The Biden administration has issued its final rule on maintenance of public lands, finalizing a 2023 proposal to allow leases of those lands for conservation purposes.

The rule, issued Thursday by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), would finalize the bureau’s proposal for “conservation leases.” It outlines which people and entities would qualify, including tribal governments, state fish and wildlife agencies and conservation districts. It would not be an option for any usages that contradict existing ones.

The rule also clarifies the process by which BLM designates Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs), or areas within federal lands that need special upkeep considerations. It clarifies and streamlines the previous process, which was “described partially in regulation and partially in agency policy,” according to the final rule.

Unlike the 2023 draft rule, the final rule includes a provision stating that “leases cannot be held by foreign persons.” Republicans, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), frequently raised the specter of Chinese nationals buying federal land under the terms of the draft.

“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. 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,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement accompanying the final rule.

“This rule honors our obligation to current and future generations to help ensure our public lands and waters remain healthy amid growing pressures and change,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said.

The final rule comes the week after the Interior Department issued a separate rule raising fees for oil and gas drilling on public lands, much of it codifying provisions passed in the Inflation Reduction Act. That rule raises the royalty rate from 12.5 percent to 16.67 percent, as well as increasing annual rent rates from $1.50 for the first five years and $3 thereafter to $5 for the first five years and $15 after.

Updated at 4:37 p.m.

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