Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: John Wright
For Immediate Release: March 16, 2005

New Rule Change to Give States, Counties and Tribes Active Role in Land-use Planning Decisions

Cooperating Agency Status will give representatives a seat at the table


WASHINGTON-In remarks today before the opening session of the 70th Annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Washington, D.C., Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that she is taking two important steps to ensure local, state, counties, and tribal governments and other agencies with a stronger, more active role in determining how public lands should be managed.

"Local communities, states and tribes all have a tremendous stake in the land-management issues that confront the Interior Department," Norton said. "They should be at the table when these issues are addressed, so they can voice their concerns and provide their input during the decision-making process."

Norton took action to finalize a Bureau of Land Management rule that will be published later this week in the Federal Register. The BLM rule impacts only land-use decisions and establishes uniform eligibility criteria for federal and state agencies, and tribal and local governments to apply for and become cooperating agencies.

"This is an important change in the way we do business," Norton said. "It affirms that America's lands should be managed in partnership with the public."

Second, DOI has also sent to the Federal Register, a proposed amendment to the Departmental Manual. The amendment will require all DOI bureaus to invite qualified government entities to participate as cooperating agencies when the bureau is developing environmental impact statements. The Departmental Manual is the guidance document that outlines in detail how each agency of the department will operate.

"We look forward to our land managers working with local, state and tribal governments, so these entities will have a seat at the table during the planning process," Norton said. "It will promote broader public participation in resource management decisions and will ultimately generate more effective on-the-ground solutions,"

Norton noted that the BLM proposed rule change and amendment to the DOI manual supports an Executive Order on Facilitation of Cooperative Conservation, signed by President Bush on August 26, 2004. That order directs the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies to implement laws that relate to the environment and natural resources in a manner that promotes cooperative conservation of natural resources through collaboration

The Interior Department has long recognized a distinct role for state, local and tribal government in land-management planning activities, which is consistent with Secretary Norton's 4C's, communication, consultation and cooperation - all in the service of conservation. The practice has never been formally recognized or required in DOI regulations, until now. The DOI bureaus will have the responsibility to reach out to their partners by encouraging them to collaborate in preparation of environmental impact statements required under the National Environmental Policy Act and in the land-use planning process.




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