Date of Award

Spring 6-9-2024

Document Type

Thesis (Undergraduate)


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Richard B. Howarth

Second Advisor

Ross T. Jones


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the largest land administrator in the United States, managing about 10% of U.S. lands, primarily in the Western states. The BLM manages under a multiple-use framework, issuing commercial authorizations for grazing, mining, oil and gas, and wind and solar on public lands, while also managing for ecosystem health. In April 2024, the agency finalized a rule that would create a conservation leasing mechanism to allow private, state, and tribal parties to lease BLM lands for restoration and mitigation purposes, which I investigate here. First, I find that while the conservation leasing mechanism does not create a direct pathway to negotiate changes to other use authorizations, it could be used to cement prior authorization modifications. Second, I explore opportunities for conservation leasing on BLM lands with GIS analysis. I find that the BLM holds nearly 10% of areas of unprotected biodiversity importance in the conterminous U.S. and that BLM grazing and oil and gas authorizations are located on 85% and 16% of these areas, respectively. I also find that 57 endangered and threatened species have over 10% of critical habitat on BLM land, and 25 listed species have over 10% of critical habitat on BLM land authorized for grazing. Stressors to these species are diverse, including activities authorized on BLM lands and other factors. I also find over 40% of big game habitat in Utah is located on BLM lands and that BLM grazing is authorized on over 90% of these lands. Third, by building models for solar development in the Western U.S. using multi-criteria analysis, I find that critical habitat for endangered species occurs on less than 3% of land most suitable for solar development. Conservation leasing on BLM lands could offset 10-20% of this impact, but adding BLM lands to areas already available for other mitigation opportunities only modestly increases the total area that could be offset through compensatory mitigation. Given the large overlap between high-priority conservation areas and other uses, I conclude by recommending that the BLM strengthen property rights for authorizations across uses to facilitate voluntary negotiations between users. Stronger rights attached to grazing authorizations, for instance, would allow stakeholders to apply local knowledge to realize grazing practices aligned with ranching and conservation priorities. Paired with restoration and mitigation leasing, I suggest that markets for multiple use rights would facilitate mutually beneficial and secure outcomes for oil and gas, grazing, and conservation interests.

Original Citation

Menning, Isaiah. “Conserving the Public Lands: Policy and Spatial Analysis of a Bureau of Land Management Conservation Leasing Mechanism.” Dartmouth College, 2024.