Interview of Acting State BLM Director Aden Seidlitz, Dec. 5, 2017
LWVNM Members: Barbara Calef, Lynn Jones, Ann Coulston, Chris Furlanetto
Acting Director Seidlitz did not have a presentation so we jumped right in to the questions Barbara and Lynn had prepared.
With regard to the multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate for the BLM, Seidlitz said that FLPMA continues to govern federal land management, but different administrations have different priorities. The Obama administration placed more emphasis on protection of resources and multiple uses of lands; the current administration is placing less emphasis on conservation and more on resource extraction. They are moving towards shrinking protected areas, as evidenced by the Utah announcement 12/4. This administration believes that local communities have been hurt by too much emphasis on protection; the local communities often believe that more lands should be available for revenue-generating activities.
New Mexico is in a BLM region with Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Most of the acreage (13 million acres) is in NM so the regional office is here in NM. Management practices are 80-85% consistent across the region and across the 4 (or 5?) district offices in NM.
The Trump administration has proposed cuts to the BLM budget and workforce but Congress has not yet passed a budget. Consistent with the proposed cuts, the Department of the Interior has not filled critical positions although it is requiring regional offices to send everything back to Washington for approval. This combination has severely impacted getting anything done. Seidlitz believes his office should deal with Interior so he is trying to shield the district and field offices from the bureaucratic difficulties and free them to focus on their local on-the-ground issues.
The BLM website was changed at the end of the Obama administration; Seidlitz believes that’s the reason the ‘How We Manage’ page Barbara asked about is missing. The BLM is still trying to rebuild the site.
Eight landscape-level plans – also called resource management plans - were started in our region under the Obama administration. In NM, the plans involve the BLM and the USFS and fall under an umbrella program called Restore New Mexico which is coordinated by a nonprofit, the NM Association of Conservation Districts, http://www.nmacd.org/restore-new-mexico . Seidlitz said there are multiple stakeholders with ~300 partners, including ranchers.
The focus of these programs is to restore landscapes to their original condition. In southern NM, invasive mesquite and creosote (and farther north, juniper) have been removed from more than 3.5 million acres. Unused roads have also been reclaimed.
Seidlitz reviewed the steps in the oil and gas lease process:
Leases are for 10 years and can be renewed if production has started. Some parcels are never drilled; in such cases the leases cannot be renewed. Currently the state gets 48% of the royalty revenue; the federal government gets 52%.
We asked about the upcoming lease auction in the Greater Chaco region where some parcels are very close to the 10-mile exclusion zone. Seidlitz said they are now in the protest period for those parcels. The auction is scheduled for March, 2018.
In response to a question about transferring federal mineral rights on privately owned lands that are not currently leased (split estate), Seidlitz said the BLM has not been proactive in searching out such parcels. Industry is really not interested in these lands unless they are in or near producing areas, he added. He also said that he thought Commissioner Dunn’s estimate of the potential economic benefit of transferring the subsurface mineral rights was overblown.
The BLM has a fire program similar to that of the USFS. There are programs to give technical assistance to tribes (in particular, Navajo and Jicarilla Apache tribes), to the state, and to private landowners.
Unlike the State Land Office, the BLM has enough inspectors to enforce regulations across the state.
Seidlitz does not see any impetus in Congress to transfer federal lands to states. He is not in favor of such transfers primarily because states would 1) offer less protection of resources (no NEPA equivalent), 2) likely allow less public input, and 3) likely allocate fewer dollars/personnel to manage the lands.
We asked specifically about potential changes to the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains national monuments. Seidlitz is optimistic our Senators have enough clout to keep them intact.
On the topic of land swaps with the state, Seidlitz says this can happen but it requires much effort relative to the size of the parcels. The state has to clear title for suggested parcels, do a NEPA assessment and get an appraisal before finalizing a swap. The BLM generally investigates more acreage than proposed because swapped parcels must have equivalent market prices – they want to be sure enough acreage is approved once the appraisal is completed. The BLM does not typically propose such swaps but responds when landowners approach them.