The laws and policies which currently guide our land management agencies already allow agencies to do the things you’re advocating. The two overarching laws governing use on Forest Service and BLM land (National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA)) direct agencies to manage lands sustainably and to protect natural resources. There is a lot of decision space to work with within the existing regulatory framework. How do you want “advance environmental stewardship on our public lands?” Stringent stipulations on uses? Closed to logging and oil and gas development? All these things and more can be done within existing laws.
Congress and the Obama administration already “have the opportunity to advance environmental stewardship on our public lands” through our existing laws. Congress can do almost anything they want. Want more wilderness? Updated oil and gas On Shore Orders? Congress can do this with the stroke of a pen; they don’t need an overhaul of land management laws. We can “develop land-use policies that emphasize science-based management of our public lands—that is, policies that promote science based tools to sustain fish and wildlife populations and the resources and ecosystems on which they depend” through existing laws. In fact, land management agencies are already doing these things. Recent studies on greater sage-grouse are leading to more stringent restrictions on oil and gas development. Agencies rely heavily on scientific data to make decisions. When they don’t, they lose lawsuits. Using science is necessary to show impacts of agency actions when complying with NEPA.
Let’s look specifically at the H.R.2807 - America's Wildlife Heritage Act. I’m looking at the summary here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-2807&tab=summary
America's Wildlife Heritage Act - Sets forth requirements concerning the maintenance of viable populations of existing native and desired non-native species within each planning area in the National Forest System's or the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) public lands. Directs the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to adopt and implement a strategically targeted monitoring program for determining the status and trends of native and desired non-native species populations on System and BLM lands. Defines: (1) native species to mean species of plants and animals indigenous to a planning area; and (2) desired non-native species to mean those wild species of plants and animals that are not indigenous to a planning area but are valued for their contribution to species diversity or their social, cultural, or economic value.
Agencies already have a body of guidance regarding native species. It looks almost exactly like the broad, squishy language above, telling agencies natives are preferred while leaving room for non-natives. (Our politicians wouldn’t want to mandate that all species are native or their friends in the agriculture business would not be happy). Direction like this in a law is ambiguous and meaningless.
Requires the Secretaries to coordinate the management of planning areas of the System and the BLM with the management of the National Wildlife Refuge System and National Park System, other federal agencies, state fish and wildlife agencies, other state agencies responsible for management of natural resources, tribes, local governments, and non-governmental organizations engaged in species conservation. Requires the Secretaries to issue regulations implementing this Act within one year of its enactment.
We need a law just to tell land management agencies to work together? Is that really a good use of our legislature’s time and energy? Agencies already work together. There are processes in place (such as Cooperating Agency Status) that deal with agency cooperation.
As for NEPA, it’s a very simple law (it’s only a few pages) and should not be tampered with. NEPA says nothing about what course of action an agency should take. It does not give guidance on whether to allow use of resources or to preserve them. NEPA merely tells the agencies that they must make the public aware of the impacts of their actions and affords the public the right to participate in these decisions. No one can argue those are not very important things for a public land agency to do. It doesn’t matter how old it is, these important principles will always stand. NEPA should not be “polluted” with opinions on how to address specific resource uses. Policy, guidance, and land use plans should address those tough issues.
Maybe some tweaks around the edges could be warranted. But I would caution totally revamping our laws that govern public land management. The laws aren’t broken, only some administrations which implement them. This problem of mismanagement will not go away regardless of how many laws are changed or added. This effort might make folks feel good, but it means nothing. We would be better off with Obama’s Secretaries of Ag and Interior issuing guidance to the agencies which emphasizes protection of natural resources and makes certain practices/approaches which do this a priority. Their ability to do this is well within existing law. We saw how much Bush did within existing law (and some outside law) to make use a priority. Obama can do the same to further his administration’s environmental goals the opposite side of the spectrum.