BLM will work with local stakeholders to identify parcels for potential wilderness designations
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Under harsh fire from congressional Republicans, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week rescinded a plan to identify and designate wild lands on Bureau of Land Management territory. The continuing budget resolution passed by Congress made the plan moot in any case by stripping the Interior Department of any funding to carry out the plan.
Conservative western lawmakers characterized the proposal as yet another federal land grab and charged that the Interior Department doesn’t have the resources to adequately manage the acreage it already controls.
Instead, Salazar said he will work with members of Congress, states, tribes, and local communities to identify public lands that may be appropriate candidates for congressional protection under the Wilderness Act.
“The protection of America’s wilderness for hunting, fishing, and backcountry recreation should be a unifying issue that mobilizes us to a common purpose,” Salazar said in a press release. “We will focus our effort on building consensus around locally-supported initiatives and working with Members to advance their priorities for wilderness designations in their states and districts. Together, we can advance America’s proud wilderness legacy for future generations.”
Wilderness advocates were disappointed by Salazar’s announcement.
We are deeply disappointed in Secretary Salazar’s decision today to undermine his Wild Lands policy, said Wilderness Society president William Meadows. “This policy helped provide the guidance needed by the Bureau of Land Management to properly manage lands as required by the Federal Land policy and Management Act of 1976. Today’s memorandum ignores the BLM’s obligation to protect wilderness values and effectively lets stand former Secretary Gale Norton’s deeply flawed decision to prohibit the BLM from properly managing those public lands that harbor wilderness values. Without strong and decisive action from the Department of Interior, wilderness will not be given the protection it is due, putting millions of acres of public lands at risk.
“It’s important to keep in mind that these lands belong to all Americans. This apparent capitulation to opponents of wilderness protection is deeply disturbing – we hope the Secretary will reassert his previous leadership in recognizing the Interior Department’s responsibly to protect our most sensitive landscapes for future generations,” Meadows said.
In a memo, Secretary Salazar directed Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes to work with the BLM and interested parties to develop recommendations regarding the management of public lands with wilderness characteristics.
Noting the longstanding and widespread support for the designation of wilderness areas, Salazar also directed Hayes to solicit 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. Hayes will deliver a report to the Secretary and Congress regarding those areas.
In the memo, Salazar also confirmed that BLM must continue to meet its responsibilities under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, including the requirement that it maintain inventories of the public lands, their resources and other values that it manages. That mandate includes identifying lands with wilderness qualities.
The BLM currently manages 221 Wilderness Areas designated by Congress and 545 Wilderness Study Areas, comprising approximately 8.8 percent of the nearly 245 million acres managed by the BLM.
In December, 2010, Secretary Salazar issued Secretarial Order 3310, directing the BLM to use the public resource management planning process to gather public input and designate certain lands with wilderness characteristics as “Wild Lands.” On April 14, 2011, Congress passed the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, which includes a provision that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310 in fiscal year 2011.
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