Why Public Comments?
Public comments are an essential part of the processes that shape the management of our public lands and waters. These comments are where we reinforce transparency in public decision making and land-use planning, make our voices heard on the record and where we stand up for the places and wildlife we care about. BHA believes public comments are a critical leverage point in protecting our hunting heritage and wildlife habitat. Through our individual and collective actions we can ensure our values are protected and passed down to future generations.
Taking action through public comment is vital to conservation because land management agencies are constantly making decisions that impact how our public lands will be managed and used for years to come. So, when it’s time to take action, BHA wants to arm you with the best possible resources. To that end, we have created this Public Comment Guide as a resource to help you lend your voice to the public lands, waters, and wildlife that matter most to you.
We Make It Easy For You
You don’t have to be an expert to submit a public comment. Hunters and anglers have a deep understanding of wildlife, so share whatever knowledge or observations you have to offer. Tell government agencies the impacts you see at the landscape level, and demonstrate your own voice. If you’re interested in learning more about how BHA frames public comments around our values, check out the resources below.
You are the public in public lands. Let’s keep it public and well managed by raising our voices for our common grounds and values.
BHA Conservation Priorities:
Access and Opportunity
For hunters and anglers across the United States, public lands and waters are the cornerstone of our sporting heritage. These backcountry areas provide adventure, challenge, and solitude that embody the rugged spirit of American ideals. For generations, sportsmen and women have relied on access to public lands for quality hunting and fishing opportunities. A lack of access, however, is the number one reason that people stop pursuing their outdoor passions. The concepts of access and opportunity extend well beyond physical barriers as well. While public lands are a part of the American taxpayer’s estate, public access is never a guarantee and well-monied interests are invested in dismantling the North American Model in favor of practices that benefit only those who can pay for these privileges. BHA is an advocate for maintaining and enhancing fair and equitable access to public lands for all Americans and strives to keep public lands in public hands in addition to enhancing opportunities for hunting and fishing.
Wildlife & Habitat
Through the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, fish and wildlife resources are considered to be held in trust for the benefit of the public and managed by state and provincial fish and wildlife agencies. Healthy populations of all fish and wildlife provide the opportunity for sportsmen and women to engage in our outdoor traditions. These populations, however, can only be as strong and viable as the habitat that they call home. Degradation and fragmentation of habitat from human encroachment and development, invasive species, wildfire, and climate change are threaten the health of intact ecosystems and can cause population level impacts to the fish and wildlife that are so important to hunters and anglers. Our ability to hunt and fish depends on healthy habitat. BHA advocates for science-based fish and wildlife management in addition to the conservation of priority landscapes and intact habitat.
Helpful Resources to Get You Started:
- Public Comment FAQ
- Federal Register
- A Guide to Federal Rulemaking Processes
- BLM Resource Management Planning Process
- Acronyms & Abbreviations - BLM
- USFS Forest Planning Process
- Acronyms & Abbreviations - USFS
Public Comment Examples:
While public commenting opportunities exist at different stages within planning processes to provide specific direction to management agencies, not everyone is comfortable providing technical feedback. It is perfectly acceptable to write comments for any part of the planning process in your own words as long as they are relevant, specific, and speak to your areas of expertise, understanding, or value of ecological resources like lands, waters, plants and wildlife.
That said, it is important to note that different stages and comment periods have more specific requirements and needs that you need to be aware of. For example, a scoping comment will need to lay out all the things you believe should be analyzed and why. A comment on a DEIS or EIS will need to incorporate more technical comments. In these instances, we recommend you reach out to your chapters and coordinators for support. We have provided examples below of a general public comment and a scoping comment to give you a sense of their differences.
General Public Comment Example
Scoping Comment Example
Rulemaking, Regulations and Land-use Planning:
Federally managed public lands are open to the public and managed by government agencies. The American public owns all federal public lands, in which every American has a personal stake and a guaranteed say in how these lands are cared for. The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres of land in the U.S., of which 615.3 million acres is administered by five federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service (NPS), and the Department of Defense (DoD). Each agency has different objectives and policies for how they manage land within their jurisdiction.
Through the public commenting process, the public has a unique opportunity to help direct the management of our public lands to ensure public access and fish and wildlife habitat are maintained. This gives sportsmen and women across the U.S. the ability to voice their concerns and shape the future management direction of these lands that we cherish.
USFS Federal Rulemakings, Regulations and Land-use Planning
The USFS manages 154 national forests, 20 national grasslands, and 1 tallgrass prairie that comprise the 193 million acre National Forest System. These public lands provide endless hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities for sportsmen and women. Your public comments are a necessary component of rule makings, regulations and planning actions to ensure current and future generations have access and opportunities to recreate on USFS administered public lands. They also create accountability for the USFS to manage for healthy fish and wildlife habitat including watershed health.
The Process Rulemaking and regulatory planning activities for the USFS is governed by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). NFMA requires each individual national forest or grassland managed by the USFS to develop a Forest Plan (FP). Further specifications and requirements for how each FP is implemented is guided by the 2012 Planning Rule. This planning rule specifies how to implement NFMA and how to conduct Forest Plan Revisions (FPRs), which are required every 15 years. The FPR process begins with a Notice of Intent (NOI), which initiates a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), outlines the proposed rule, and provides a public comment period on the outlined revision. From there, the official DEIS is published and a second formal public comment period is opened. The NOI and DEIS are critical points in the process for public participation; the agency has a responsibility to address all public comments made after the NOI is issued and as part of the DEIS preparation. Ultimately, the agency completes a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a final ruling, Record of Decision (ROD), is made soon thereafter. An important distinction is that FPs supplement laws to provide discretion for the agency to guide management. NFMA, or other specific federal or state laws, authorize the actions and commitments of the USFS.
BLM Federal Rulemakings, Regulations and Land-use Planning
The BLM administers 244.4 million acres of land including 35 million acres of National Conservation Lands made up of national monuments, national conservation areas, national scenic and historic trails, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness areas, and wilderness study areas. In addition, more than 700 million acres of federal subsurface mineral estate throughout the U.S. are managed by the BLM. Your voice is needed so these public lands can be managed in a way that sustains our hunting and fishing heritage, protects water and wildlife resources, and preserves authentic backcountry experiences. BLM’s mandate to manage for multiple use doesn’t mean every use in every place and it’s up to us to elevate considerations for fish, wildlife, water, and recreational opportunities where they are the highest and best uses. The Process The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) directs rulemaking and regulations on BLM land. Under FLMPA, Resource Management Plans (RMPs) must be developed to guide management practices. RMP development is done in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Through this process, BLM creates NEPA documents that may detail land-use activities including: Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), Environmental Assessments (EAs), Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSIs), Determinations of NEPA Adequacy (DNAs), and Categorical Exclusions (CEs). EISs analyze how federal actions will have a significant effect on the human environment, which include establishing the purpose and need for proposed actions, environmental impact analysis, and ways to mitigate any impacts. EISs provide more opportunity for public comment and involvement than an EA and are finalized with a ROD. Typically, EAs are completed for proposed actions that seem to have no significant environmental impact. In addition to surface land management, the BLM manages the country's onshore subsurface mineral estate. The BLM’s authority to do so is rooted in the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and FLPMA.
Many state lands (such as trust lands) are required to generate revenue and are governed by different rules than federal public lands. For some state lands, there is no requirement to involve its citizens in public land management decisions, such as mineral development, extraction, logging or subdivisions.
All states have some lands under state management, which include state parks, state wildlife management areas, and state forests. Each state has its own agencies with decision making bodies that create, administer, and enforce rule makings and management plans for these public lands. Although different from federal public commenting, state rule makings still offer the public a chance to comment on proposed rule changes. State rule makings are a more localized approach to influence land management decisions and are an important opportunity to be a voice for your state’s public lands and waters.
The amount and percentage of state owned land in each state varies greatly. Similar to federally owned public lands, state lands are acquired and disposed of, transferred, swapped, and reclassified on a regular basis. Public access can be limited or nonexistent on state owned lands, resulting in fewer opportunities for sportsmen and women to recreate on these lands.
Individual Comments vs Form Comments:
We recognize that our members may not always have the bandwidth to sit down, research an issue, and draft a unique comment. Sometimes commenting on the issues we care about can be intimidating, documents and proposals can be dense. That said, we always encourage our members to draft individual comments that express your values, share your experiences, and highlight your individual knowledge of the issues whatever they may be. You don't need to be an "expert" to comment, and we can't afford to entrust the future of our public lands, waters, and wildlife in the assumption that others will represent our values. Your voice matters and our heritage is in your hands.
That said, BHA does offer a convenient opportunity to help you engage on priority public lands, waters, and wildlife issues. So, if you simply do not have the time to draft an individual comment, we've got you covered. BHA's take action page highlights a number of priority issues, provides education, and gets you started with a form comment that you can edit and add to. Our take action page makes submitting comments easy. Simply by typing in your address your comment will be routed to the appropriate decision maker. On top of this, should you ever need to identify who your decision makers are, and what their contact information is, you can use our directory tool.
So What's Better?
All comments are useful, and while submitting an individual comment is often the most impactful, there is also real value in submitting form comments. First, if you are choosing between submitting a form comment and not commenting at all, you are ultimately making the decision of whether or not you want your voice and values to be considered. Form comments ensure your values will be represented. Additionally, through the virtue of our members who submit form comments on our take action page, BHA is able to move the needle on priority issues by highlighting the number of individuals who took the time to comment.
Substance and numbers matter when it comes to commenting. Sharing the depth of our understanding and breadth of support for our public lands, waters, and wildlife are how we fight for them. The best comment is the one you submit. Make sure your voice is heard.
The preceding piece was compiled by:
University of Colorado - Boulder
Masters of the Environment (MENV) Graduate Program
Project: BHA Land Management
Western states are experiencing historic rates of natural resource extraction and population expansion, which threaten the high-quality hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities U.S. public lands have to offer. In addition, development on public lands has placed specific pressures on wildlife and their habitats in the West. The MENV Team is working with BHA on projects involving proposed land management plans that encompass public lands and waterways, energy development mitigation, and overall recreation impacts on wildlife. By engaging a variety of stakeholders at the public, private, and institutional level, the MENV Team has provided research and analysis products to help guide BHA’s vision and action on public land use decisions.
Jameson Reiser: Omaha, NE
Jameson Reiser is a current graduate student at the University of Colorado - Boulder, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainability Planning and Management (SPM). Jameson has worked for various non-profit, public, and private organizations, from conservation planning for The Nature Conservancy in South Dakota and Minnesota, to assisting Boulder County Parks & Open Space update a property’s management plan, to threatened and endangered biological survey work for environmental consulting firms across the Midwest. In his free time, Jameson enjoys hiking and climbing, fly-fishing, and exploring the public lands of Colorado.
Upon graduation from CU, Jameson intends to find employment where he can manage multi-use landscapes, be a responsible steward of the land, and collaborate with conservation-minded individuals and organizations.
- Natural Resources Management
- Environmental Planning
- Conservation Planning
Nat Paterson: Chatham, NJ
Nat Paterson is a graduate student in the Masters of the Environment program at CU-Boulder studying Environmental and Natural Resource Policy. He grew up in New Jersey fishing it’s beaches and the lakes of upstate New York. After graduating from college, he moved to Jackson, WY to explore all the opportunities the Rocky Mountains had to offer. After moving to Colorado, Nat decided to turn his passion for the outdoors into a career by enrolling at CU-Boulder.
Nat enjoys fly casting to high country trout in the summer and chasing elk, mule deer and antelope in the fall. Upon graduation, Nat would like to work to conserve public lands and wildlife throughout the west.
Paige Fery: Salt Lake City, Utah
Paige grew up exploring the mountains and deserts of Utah, where she formed her own land ethic early on. She has a background working in outdoor education as well as climate and health communications research. When she isn’t hiking or backcountry skiing, she enjoys angling all over the West. Paige currently lives in Jackson, Wyoming while she finishes her master’s at the University of Colorado Boulder.
After completing her master’s Paige hopes to work on issues related to public lands and conservation, specifically in the Intermountain West.