Strong Foundations: Resource Management Plans set the stage for Conservation on BLM Wildlands
The Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs Field Office is revising its resource management plan. This land-use plan will direct the management for the next 15-20 years for 3.6 million acres for what is called the Rock Springs Planning Area.
Crouching behind a hump of eroding multi-colored mud rock, my partner and I glassed the surrounding sagebrush flats and creek banks for the flick of an ear, the glint of sunlight on an antler tine, a shape within the shadows. Opening morning of deer season and we were out early on a chunk of BLM land not far from where we live. In the distance, workers ambled about the towering structures of an oil field. The same stream below us flowed along the edge of the oil field structures, the same sagebrush flanked its wells, yet here, where we sat, all was quiet and still. Having worked for the Forest Service for the last ten years, I knew it was no accident that we sat in quietude largely free from development, while only a few miles away many, many gallons of oil were being pumped out of the earth. Having never seen the documentation, I had a hunch we were inside of a protected area, and I was right. While these designations are not always so obvious, they are incredibly important and easy to take for granted.
Of the 62 million acres¹ of land within Wyoming’s borders, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stewards approximately 18 million acres, plus 43 million acres of federal mineral estate. (For context, the Forest Service manages roughly 9 million acres of land in Wyoming and the Park Service roughly 2 million acres¹). BLM lands in
Wyoming vary from juniper forests to rolling sagebrush steppe, from colorful
badlands to aspen glades, from wet meadows to deep gorges with raging
rivers. The framework or blueprint for how the BLM manages these areas to meet its “multiple-use, sustained yield” mandate is laid out in resource management plans (RMPs), also commonly referred to as land use plans (LUPs).
To effectively manage such a vast amount of land, the BLM is administratively divided into Districts and then Field Offices, each of which are responsible for managing a portion of those lands. Resource Management Plans are specific to each Field Office and the lands under its purview.
“The agency’s challenge is to manage this portfolio on behalf of all Americans, while recognizing the considerable local and regional consequences its decisions may have.”²
Ideally, RMP’s apply relevant legislation, the most up to date science, best management practices, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, local knowledge, and public values to lands under a Field Office’s jurisdiction. The result is a guiding document that provides high-level objectives, standards, and requirements for specific geographic areas as well as specific activities within those geographic areas. All future decisions and actions on or within those lands ideally tier back to the RMP. This can include how and when the BLM authorizes oil and gas drilling, area closures for raptor nesting, how grazing allotments will be managed, designating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), how outdoor recreation will be managed, and the list goes on.
Often over 200 pages and full of agency-specific jargon, Resource Management Plans can be daunting. Below we provide a broad overview to help you navigate the portions most relevant to you. We hope this helps broaden your understanding of BLM management practices so that you can make your voice heard when the BLM asks for public feedback.
KEY PARTS OF AN RMP:
Record of Decision (ROD): Each RMP begins with an ROD, which documents the selection of the final plan, a summary of the review process, and justification for final plan selection. (We provide more information in future blog posts on the immense planning process that occurs before the BLM signs an ROD and implements the new RMP.)
Planning & Management Decisions by Resource. This is the main body of the Resource Management Plan, organized by what the BLM calls resource areas. This includes things like Minerals Management, Livestock Grazing, Wildland Fire, Recreation, etc. We pay particular attention to Special Management Areas such as ACEC’s as well as to Wilderness Management direction and Wildlife provisions.
Maps: These are referenced throughout the text and provide important geographic context for the resource management direction discussed above.
Appendices: Typically, appendices provide more in-depth description of management practices for certain resources. For example, they can include guidelines on managing surface disturbing activities associated with mineral extraction, standards for healthy rangelands, or a Wild & Scenic River review. Some RMP’s include a biological assessment as an appendix that considers how the management prescriptions in the RMP might affect plant or wildlife species of concern and what the BLM will do to mitigate those impacts.
Governor’s consistency review letter confirming the stipulations set forth in the RMP do not conflict with state law & policy.
WHAT'S NOT IN AN RMP?
Proper management of many resource areas and activities described in the RMP require a much more detailed plan generated through environmental analysis and public engagement specific to that resource area. These are often referenced in the RMP but are conducted separately and include things like: Travel Management Planning for motorized use, Wilderness Resource Management, Wild Horse & Burro Management, project-specific analysis, etc. These documents can also be found on the BLM E-Planning Website.
Resource Management Plans are one of the most important tools we have for codifying how we live with, on and amongst BLM managed wildlands. They provide the public, other land management agencies, and Tribes the opportunity to weigh in on how those lands are managed. When done correctly, this ensures the BLM is considering the values and concerns of all who have ties to a landscape and that it is being managed in the best way possible.
Returning home from the hunt that crisp Fall day of deer season, I pulled up the BLM’s National Data Viewer and confirmed that we were in fact inside of a protected area. We were sitting in the northeast corner of an ACEC designed to protect an important greater sage grouse migration corridor. This ACEC provides tighter restrictions on off-highway vehicle use, mineral exploration, and livestock grazing than otherwise would be in place for that area. Thanks to all those who advocated for setting that area aside in the Resource Management Plan, we shared those wild badlands with a healthy population of sage grouse rather than more oil wells or hard rock mines.
WWA Efforts Related to BLM Resource Management
Red Desert: WWA is working with a coalition of non-profit organizations to provide input as the Rock Springs Field Office revises its Resource Management Plan. As part of this process, WWA is excited to announce we have submitted two locations for designation as ACECs in the new RMP:
Little Sandy ACEC Nomination encompassing the Golden Triangle on the western foothills of the Wind River Mountains
Red Desert ACEC Nomination in the heart of the Northern Red Desert.
See our campaigns page for more information.
We are also excited to announce that two of our coalition partner organizations have submitted nominations for ACEC designations in the Red Desert:
Indigenous Land Alliance of Wyoming has submitted two nominations, one for the Boar’s Tusk and the other for the Indian Gap Trail Area.
Wyoming Outdoor Council has submitted the Red Desert to Hoback Migration Corridor.
Casper Field Office: Resource Management Plan revision provides an opportunity to advocate for conservation goals on BLM lands. WWA has asked the Casper Field Office to consider revising its Resource Management Plan to incorporate greater opportunities for conservation and Tribal Co-Stewardship.
-For more on how we engage with the BLM, sign up for our email alerts & newsletter!
-Contact Lauren Marsh firstname.lastname@example.org for more on WWA’s ACEC nominations.