Salazar confirms BLM won't follow 'wild lands' order this year

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 2 -- US Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar confirmed on June 1 that the US Bureau of Land Management will not designate any of the federal acreage it oversees as “wild lands” in response to a provision in the federal government’s current operating budget. He also directed Deputy Interior Sec. David J. Hayes to work with BLM and interested parties to develop recommendations for managing public lands with wilderness characteristics.

Federal lawmakers from western states, who criticized Salazar’s Dec. 22, 2010, order for BLM to evaluate the land it administers and identify acreage with wilderness characteristics as a de facto wilderness designation move, cautiously applauded his latest action. Environmental organizations condemned it.

The continuing resolution Congress passed on Apr. 14 to keep the government operating through Sept. 30 includes language prohibiting the use of federally appropriated funds to implement, enforce, and administer Secretarial Order 3301, the secretary noted in a June 1 memorandum to BLM Director Robert V. Abbey.

BLM will continue to maintain inventories of land under its jurisdiction, including those with wilderness characteristics, he continued. Also, consistent with the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), BLM will consider wilderness characteristics of public land when undertaking its multiple use planning and when making project-level decisions, Salazar said.

‘Folks on ground’
Republican members of Utah and Wyoming’s congressional delegations, who had been Order 3301’s strongest critics, welcomed Salazar’s memo. “This antimultiple use order would have severely limited access to public lands and threatened western economies,” Sen. John A. Barrasso (Wyo.) said. “I am pleased the administration appears to finally understand that bypassing Congress and ignoring input from local officials is the wrong way to go. We need to have a balanced approach to managing our public lands that involves listening to folks on the ground who know the land the best.”

US Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who helped assure that a provision preventing BLM from implementing Salazar’s December 2010 order was written into the continuing resolution, said the secretary’s memo was a step in the right direction. “While I am pleased that the [Interior] intends to uphold the requirements of the Wilderness Act and work with Congress to designate new wilderness areas, I am interested in learning more about their plans to manage lands with so-called ‘wilderness characteristics,’” he added.

But a blog at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s web site said the Obama administration “capitulated to a handful of antiwilderness western politicians.” The group said that Order 3310 was weak, but better than nothing, and that Salazar’s memo “was a retreat to nothing…. This fight isn’t over. The Obama administration has been a steady and enormous disappointment on public lands, but they are very sensitive to public sentiment. It’s time they heard from all of us who believe Utah’s wild canyon country deserves protection.”

Athan Manuel, lands protection director at the Sierra Club, said, “The last-minute sneak attack which hamstrung the policy in this year’s budget is bad news for our public lands—and for scores of local economies that depend on outdoor recreation. The future of some of our most cherished wild places should not be determined by political games.”

Kathleen Sgamma, government affairs director at the Western Energy Alliance in Denver, observed that local initiatives can be more effective than top-down directives in producing commonsense protection for lands with wilderness characteristics.

“For example in Utah, the Red Rocks Wilderness Act has failed over 2 decades because politicians outside the West propose huge areas without consideration of conditions on the ground, such as whether the lands even meet wilderness criteria, or the impacts on jobs, economic activity, and local recreation,” she said. “On the other hand, Utah also provides us with a positive example of local communities and stakeholders coming together to protect over 130,000 acres in Washington County after several years of building support within the communities directly impacted.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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