August 31, 2021
BLM-Butte Field Office
106 North Parkmont
Butte, MT 59701
Dear Ms. Frost,
This letter is in response to the request for public comment in regards to NEPA # DOI-BLM-MT-B070-2019-0005-CX. The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (MT BHA) represents roughly 3,000 dues-paying public land hunters, anglers and recreationists. Our members have a vested interest, as owners of our public lands, in seeing our Bureau of Land Management (BLM) supervised lands being equitably managed, allowing for opportunity to hunt and fish to all members of the public, and that shared-use with commercial interests is held to rigorous analysis under the multiple-use mandate.
The request to increase commercialized use of BLM lands, in what amounts to a 3,433% increase, should not be exempt from standard NEPA analysis. The proposed increase is significant and thus, its impacts should be scrutinized through an Environmental Assessment. NEPA is intended to “promote its sweeping commitment to ‘prevent or eliminate damage to the environment’ . . . by focusing Government and public attention on the environmental effects of proposed agency action.” Marsh v. ONRC, 490 U.S. 360, 371 (1989). By so doing, “NEPA ensures that the agency will not act on incomplete information, only to regret its decision after it is too late to correct.” Id. Said another way, the goal of the law is to require agencies to “look before they leap.”
In the situation at hand, the BLM is proposing to utilize a categorical exclusion for “Recreational Management” (Appendix 4 (H)(1)) to jump into the deep end of the pool with a blindfold over its eyes. More specifically, the BLM is proposing to do no analysis of the potential impact of increasing commercial hunting presence on more than 49,000 acres of public land that does not currently experience that pressure. Although the BLM correctly cites the “Extraordinary Circumstances'' provisions necessitated by Appendix 5, its analysis is perfunctory, at best. For example, in its categorical exclusion review and analysis, the BLM proclaims that “[t]he nature of such operations would not create any significant impacts beyond what the areas currently receive.” Pg. 3, (4). This “Rationale” directly contradicts the facts and circumstances on the ground in this area where commercial hunting use currently does not exist.
Authorizing “year-round” use by a commercial hunting permittee introduces numerous impacts by way of a reduction in public opportunities. Professional, commercial-grade hunting is notably different from the average public hunting opportunity in significant ways and the impacts of this new use on public lands needs further analysis. In addition, there is a large potential for resource popularity conflicts, as members of the public are accustomed to hunting these lands without commercial presence. The impact of these issues will only be revealed through proper analysis of use patterns by the general public and a robust and transparent Environmental Assessment period based on more detailed information.
In addition to the human experience, the increased pressure on wildlife that is represented by the requested commercial use, especially year-round activities, many of them motorized, needs further analysis.
MT BHA requests that the BLM reconsider its use of a categorical exclusion in this case. We request that the agency perform a full EA analysis as a result of the proposed significant increase in commercial usage of the BLM lands in question. This NEPA analysis should include full documentation of the proposed usage area through visual aid, such as detailed mapping including ROS designations, land management designations, road usage designations as well as annotating public access points in the affected area. The analysis should provide information regarding the permittee’s current operation, as well as detailed travel plans for all seasons involved.
Montana BHA appreciates both the opportunity to provide these comments and the BLM’s time in reviewing them. In addition, MT BHA formally requests that we be included in all subsequent public processes which involve this proposal. We sincerely hope the agency fulfills its obligations to the public and “looks before it leaps.”
The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers