Blueprints for Restoring Balance to America’s Public Lands

Aug 7, 2013

By Center for Western Priorities

On a week when the federal government is offering new leases on over 80,000 acres of public lands for industrial oil and gas drilling without protecting a single acre of land, the Equal Ground Coalition released A Blueprint for Balance, outlining a series of common sense opportunities for the Obama Administration and Congress to restore balance to America’s public lands.


America has a proud tradition of striking a balance between oil and gas drilling, and the protection of parks, forests and monuments. Communities, businesses and families across the West depend on protected public lands for recreation, inspiration and economic success. According to the research firm Headwaters Economics, rural Western counties with large areas of protected public lands have experienced significantly faster job growth than counties without significant acreage of protected lands.

But as former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt observed in his speech at the National Press Club, we’re experiencing a dramatic decline, beginning in 2001, of that conservation tradition. Our public land conservation consensus has fractured and collapsed.”

Acres of public lands permanently protected during presidential administrations


While Washington, D.C. fails to act, Western voters show strong support for public lands conservation. Recent polling of voters in nine Western states by Hart Research Associates found that 65 percent of voters polled believed it was most important to conserve public lands, while only 30 percent thought oil and gas drilling should take precedence.

The Obama Administration has begun to right the ship, which is no easy challenge given Congress’ inability to accomplish anything of significance. In March, for example, the President created the 240,000 acre Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument—a popular decision, supported by a broad base of New Mexicans—protecting a spectacular landscape that holds cultural and ecological significance. And, during his first term, President Obama implemented much needed oil and gas leasing reforms to improve the planning process and reduce lease protests.

But, there’s still a lot of work to be done before the scales are balanced. Unlike past presidents who were able to conserve an equal amount of land as was leased for oil and gas drilling, under President Obama, 2.5 times more land has been leased than protected.

A Blueprint for Balance provides a proactive template to tackle the imbalance and place public land protections back on equal ground with development.

1) Protect public lands for future generations

  • Create new national monuments; establish new national wildlife refuges; identify and advance local communities’ land conservation priorities.

2) Promote and expand outdoor recreation as an economic engine

  • Incorporate economic measures of outdoor recreation into land management decisions; prioritize the protection and expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities near population centers; protect backcountry recreation opportunities

3) Provide taxpayers a fair return

  • Increase federal royalty rates to provide a fairer return for taxpayers; increase rental rates to encourage diligent development

4) Pay back the land

  • Establish a mitigation fee to help offset the impacts of drilling; dedicate a portion of revenues from public land oil and gas development to a new conservation fund

5) Drill the right way, in the right places

  • Fully implement 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms; give priority to drilling proposals in low-conflict areas or that conserve land; implement rules for fracking on public lands