The First 100 Days
Some public land decisions we’d like to see from the Biden administration from the get-go
In January Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States and will immediately face a number of environmental challenges across the country, Montana being no exception.
There’s no time to waste. Around the globe, habitat loss is causing extinctions at an alarming rate. The decade that just ended was the hottest ever measured, causing uncharacteristic wildfire behavior around the West. Here in Montana and in other states, pressure from human development, energy and other resource extraction, combined with a changing climate are putting wildness, wildlife connectivity, and clean water for our communities at high risk.
The Trump administration did not create these serious problems, but many of the decisions made over the last four years within the administration exacerbated them or did little to change their course.
We have many expectations as we begin working with the new administration, and we look forward to sharing those with you in the weeks to come. Many of our day-one priorities for President-elect Biden, however, involve repairing the damage caused over the last four years. Here are a few steps we hope the Biden administration will take during its first 100 days to restore sound decision-making, reverse harmful agendas, and conserve wild places.
We have much work to do if we want to leave our children a system of wild and connected public lands that are resilient in the face of a warming climate.
Across all agencies, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the cornerstone for environmental policy and public input in government decision-making. The Biden administration should immediately revoke previous executive orders that undermined NEPA, especially those that constrained environmental reviews and decreased opportunities for public input. It then needs to ensure the law is implemented across all agencies so that it can be used to address environmental justice, climate change, and the nature crisis the U.S. is confronting.
Department of the Interior (DOI)
The Biden administration has the opportunity to reverse much of the damage caused to the agencies housed under the Interior Department. First and foremost, it needs to begin by nominating a Secretary of the Interior who will manage hundreds of millions of acres in a responsible and sustainable way that benefits people living in the United States, certainly not one who is an oil lobbyist doing favors for his former clients.
We expect the new administration will also start out by reversing damaging executive orders the previous administration made, such as the 2017 order that promoted energy dominance and dismantled so many environmental protections.
The new administration needs to also nominate a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director who will boost the morale of a beleaguered agency, dramatically shift climate policy, and forego resource extraction at the expense of conservation, instead of a director who supports Cliven Bundy and believes public land should simply be sold off.
We also hope the DOI will determine whether specific policies, rules, and decisions were legally made by the Trump administration and whether those decisions take into account the impact that fossil fuel development in the U.S. is having on a warming climate. The DOI should immediately rescind any such decisions and replace them with ones that are aligned with federal climate goals, ecosystem and wildlife protection directives, clean air and water standards, fiscal responsibility to taxpayers, and environmental justice tenants that protect vulnerable communities.
In addition, on day one President-elect Biden should rescind DOI Secretarial Order 3388, which undermines the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act by placing unnecessary restrictions and directives on Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects and by requiring landowners to obtain written support from state and local officials before they can voluntarily initiate an LWCF land sale.
Bureau of Land Management
In Montana, the BLM manages over 8 million acres of federal public lands and 38 million acres of the federal mineral estate.
The BLM should rescind all decisions made under acting director William Perry Pendley, who served in that role illegally for 424 days, making all decisions he made during that time also illegal. All management plans he approved should be redone. The BLM should also re-initiate any necessary public processes associated with those plans. In Montana, that includes oil and gas leases and resource management plans affecting the Miles City, Lewistown, and Missoula planning areas.
Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manages over 1.2 million acres in Montana. The USFWS should immediately assess opportunities to expand existing refuges or create new ones in the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). This would support a resolution currently in the House calling for a National Biodiversity Strategy, which would direct agencies to pursue a suite of actions that addresses the ongoing biodiversity crisis. As part of a comprehensive effort to continue conserving America’s fish, wildlife, and plants, the USFWS should also identify opportunities for acquisition and easements, federal land transfers, and other methods that would consolidate lands within existing boundaries of the NWRS.
The largest land management agency in the state, the Forest Service oversees approximately 17 million acres in Montana. It plays a fundamental role managing lands with high conservation value, protecting community watersheds, preserving threatened and endangered species, and ensuring access to public lands.
We urge the next administration to transform this agency into one that proactively addresses the challenges of a warming climate and loss of wildlands. To do that, the Biden administration must reverse many of the disastrous policies supported and advanced by the current administration. The next administration should also work with states, tribes, communities, and other public and private partners to restore forests and reduce wildfire risk to communities using best available science. It should empower collaboration at the local level to support rules, policies, and legislation and encourage public and community engagement based on the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
We urge the next administration to transform this agency [Forest Service] into one that proactively addresses the challenges of a warming climate and loss of wildlands.
On day one, we recommend that the Biden administration rescind rulemaking efforts designed to escalate new oil and gas leasing on national forest land. This rulemaking by the current administration imperils public access and endangers wildlife habitat on 17 million acres of wildlands in Montana. And it ignores public opinion. Also, we will ask the new administration to repeal the revised Forest Service NEPA regulations (if finalized) and reinstate the regulations in place prior to finalization.
We have much work to do if we want to leave our children a system of wild and connected public lands that are resilient in the face of a warming climate. The challenges our climate, public lands, and wild places face won’t end with a new administration. But we believe the new administration can put together a comprehensive plan that can begin to address these challenges we must surmount.
John is responsible for leading and managing our conservation, policy and advocacy, communications, and stewardship teams in the development and implementation of campaigns and programs. When he's not working to protect Montana's public lands, you can (or can’t) find John with his wife, daughters and faithful bird dog in some of Montana’s last best places.