Republican governors intensify resistance to plan to sell land leases for conservation

WASHINGTON — Republican governors are pushing back against a proposal by the Biden administration to put conservation on equal footing with industry on vast government-owned lands.

On Thursday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem testified before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in favor of a bill that would require the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw the proposal, saying it would cause “deep devastation.”

The White House’s plan would allow conservationists and others to lease federally owned land to restore it, much the same way oil companies buy leases to drill and ranchers pay to graze cattle. Leases also could be bought on behalf of companies such as oil drillers who want to offset damage to public land by restoring acreage elsewhere.

The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, said the proposal was “long overdue,” noting that conservation historically “has taken a back seat to all other uses.”

Noem, however, was joined in Washington by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon in decrying the measure. One day earlier they joined the Republican governors of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah in penning a letter urging the bureau to withdraw the drafted rule.

Agriculture industry representatives are blasting it as a backdoor way to exclude mining, energy development and agriculture. Biden administration officials, however, have sought to offer reassurances.

Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the Bureau of Land Management, previously told The Associated that the proposed changes would make conservation an “equal” to grazing, drilling and other uses while not interfering with them.

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