In mid-July, I published an editorial regarding the prospect of a new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that has emerged as a topic of concern within the RV camping and boondocking community. This proposed rule, ominously titled “Conservation and Landscape Health,” has the potential to dramatically curtail access to public lands and, if implemented, would significantly impact the future of boondocking and dispersed camping. The rule would enable the BLM to severely restrict camping on the 245 million acres under its management.
H.R. 3397 would require the BLM to withdraw the “Conservation and Landscape Health” rule
One of the prominent voices in opposition to this rule is Utah Representative John Curtis. Curtis firmly believes that the proposed BLM rule could lead to restrictions on the use of common areas, particularly in the Western states. In a press release, he expressed concerns that it would “undermine the livelihoods” of many in Utah. Curtis, and the 18 House co-sponsors of H.R. 3397, contend that this rule encourages officials to prioritize conservation and preservation over other forms of land use.
The problem at present is that H.R. 3397 lies dormant in Congress. While it was reported out of the House Committee on Natural Resources, it has not been scheduled for a floor vote. GovTrack predicts the chance of passage is now only 21 percent. An identical bill, S. 1435, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming on May 3, 2023. That bill, too, is languishing and GovTrack puts its chance of passage at only 5 percent. The failure of congressional oversight and legislative action to stop this leaves the BLM free to forge ahead and implement its overreaching rule.
Prioritizing conservation and ecological health
Director Tracy Stone-Manning, representing the BLM, is, of course, an advocate for the proposed rule. She argues that it would empower the BLM to prioritize ecological health and leave public lands “better off than we found them.” This is clearly a move to prioritize conservation over other uses and to lock up public lands. This goal was certainly not the intent of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The act was the Bureau of Land Management’s organic act, and the law thereby established the BLM’s multiple-use and sustained yield mandate. It puts conservation on an equal level with other public land uses, as it should be. The new rule is not needed to practice conservation in the management of the lands.
The certain effects of the BLM proposed rule are important to RVers. According to the BLM’s website, the rule aims to promote thoughtful development while safeguarding public lands from overuse, climate change effects, invasive species, and wildfires. However, there is no getting around the fact that if the rule is implemented, BLM will limit camping access to off-grid public lands. Why? Because the bureau has clearly stated that it believes that dispersed camping is harmful to the land.
They consider it “overuse”
As RVers, we all know that the popularity of BLM-managed land has surged in recent years. The allure of free or low-cost camping spots has drawn a multitude of outdoor enthusiasts, leading to claims of overuse. Now, before someone jumps in to comment about how some campers have overstayed camping limits, left behind trash, human waste, etc., I will stipulate that those violations and abuses do occur. However, there are already rules and regulations established and in place to address those issues.
The current proposed BLM rule goes way beyond that. The BLM has implemented increasingly stringent rules and regulations over the years, resulting in the loss of free camping opportunities in some areas. It will only get worse if the administrative bureau is given free reign. In the vacuum created by congressional inaction, the BLM has indicated its intention to put this rule into effect as early as December 2023!
As an indication of the mess that is Washington, D.C., I called the BLM main office using the contact numbers published on the BLM website. I made three calls to the officials listed there. All of the telephone numbers were out of service. I called three of the co-sponsors of H.R. 3397, was given the runaround, and shunted to different congressional staff members. Not one of them answered my voice- or email messages.
If you are a boondocker, or if you value your right to camp on public lands, it would be advisable to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators and make clear your opposition to the BLM’s imminent action. Don’t bother attempting to contact BLM—the comment period for “Conservation and Landscape Health” closed on June 20, 2023.