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Wild Lands no more

Posted by ani at Jun 06, 2011 12:59 PM |
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New guidance out of Interior on the Wild Lands Policy means a backslide for public lands protection.

Wild Lands no more

No more "Wild Lands" on public lands for the time being. (Photo by Greg Burke)

Last week, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar publicly released a memo to Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey which ostensibly provided new guidance regarding implementation of the BLM’s Wild Lands Policy.  (See the Department's press release here.) 

You budget hawks and activists out there may recall that the December 2010 Wild Lands Policy issued by the Secretary was defunded in April during the 2011 Continuing Appropriations battle.  The Wildlands Policy issued under Secretarial Order 3310 on December 22, 2010 was a win for conservation and public lands protection.  As stated in the Order, the policy directed the “BLM to use the public resource management planning process to designate certain lands with wilderness characteristics as ‘Wild Lands.’”  The policy provided interim protections for public land that the BLM determined had Wilderness potential.  Sort of like round one of the interview process:  “We like your tie, you can come back.” 

Unfortunately, without funding and with this new guidance, there will be no second round.  Since the April budget battle, both public lands advocates and concerned Republicans have been waiting for new guidance from the Secretary—how will the BLM manage the Policy without the funding?  The answer came last week--short and simple:  They won’t.


While we’re hopeful we can work with our allies in Congress and the administration to reinstate funding for the Wild Lands Policy in FY 2012, the interim period looks dim for public lands protection, and may be just a hint of the backslide to come.  A quick summary of what the Secretary’s memo outlines:

  • Pursuant to the April’s Continuing Resolution, BLM will not designate any lands as “Wild Lands.”
  • BLM will continue to maintain public lands’ inventories under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act; this includes lands with wilderness characteristics, but BLM will not update the inventory or database.
  • BLM will consider wilderness characteristics as part of making decisions in land use planning and for projects, but will not designate any lands as “Wild Lands.”

The Secretary’s memo also identifies two processes for Deputy BLM Secretary David Hayes to pursue in the months ahead:

  1. Work with BLM and “interested parties” parties to develop recommendations regarding the management of BLM lands with wilderness characteristics.
  2. Soliciting input from members of Congress, state and local officials, tribes, and Federal land managers to identify BLM lands that may be appropriate candidates for Congressional protection under the Wilderness Act, and then report to Secretary and Congress.

While these terms sound fairly benign, many have been less kind in describing this announcement out of the Obama Administration, suggesting this harkens back to a darker era in public lands management.  A few who have said it best include Santa Fe’s opinion piece “Obama, Salazar selling out West?” wherein editors write:

Last week, Salazar issued a memo saying, in effect, forget what I said half a year ago about wild-land designation for certain stretches of public land; instead, I bow and scrape before a Western Republican gang of laissez-faire representatives and senators — and, of course, to the money that put and keeps them in office ...

When or if Obama is re-elected, will he and his Cabinet stiffen their spines? Or might Congress, if Democrats regain control, come to its senses?

For the sake of the West, they'd better. This is looking more and more like a reprise of the '80s — the 1880s heyday of trashing the West, and with cheap labor to boot. What little was at last saved by Teddy Roosevelt and successors is under siege, and it'll take lots of courage to lift it.

The truth hurts.

Here at Oregon Wild, we are disappointed to see Secretary Salazar turning his back on wildlands conservation.  Like our public lands allies across the country, Oregon Wild will continue to work with our friends in Congress and the administration to reinstate funding for the Wild Lands Policy in FY 2012.  To this end, we will fight to ensure our lawmakers, despite the numerous attacks facing our public lands, recognize that Wilderness is a treasured public resource and keeping Oregon’s lands, waters, and wildlife wild is invaluable.

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