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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order on Thursday directing the Bureau of Land Management, the nation’s largest public lands agency, to create a new “wild lands” jurisdiction intended to provide more protection for lands considered to have wilderness values. The order restores a wilderness policy to the BLM, which has been without one since 2003 when its previous wilderness policy was struck from the agency’s handbook in an out-of-court settlement between former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the state of Utah and others. “The bottom line is, the lands with wilderness characteristics now will have a significant place at the table so they are not seen as they have been under past policies, which was something not to be valued,” Salazar told reporters at a press conference at the outdoor gear retail giant REI store in Denver.

Salazar Restores Wilderness Policy to BLM

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order on Thursday directing the Bureau of Land Management, the nation’s largest public lands agency, to create a new “wild lands” jurisdiction intended to provide more protection for lands considered to have wilderness values.

The order restores a wilderness policy to the BLM, which has been without one since 2003 when its previous wilderness policy was struck from the agency’s handbook in an out-of-court settlement between former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the state of Utah and others.

“The bottom line is, the lands with wilderness characteristics now will have a significant place at the table so they are not seen as they have been under past policies, which was something not to be valued,” Salazar told reporters at a press conference at the outdoor gear retail giant REI store in Denver.

Salazar said the new category would put wilderness values “on the same platform” as other land uses, including oil and gas drilling.

“After seven or eight years of ignoring some of these lands, we are moving forward aggressively to make sure these values are taken into account,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said.

The new “wild lands” designation would be implemented through a public process to manage lands to protect wilderness characteristics. Unlike wilderness areas, which are created by Congress, and wilderness study areas, which the BLM typically manages as if it were wilderness until Congress acts, wild lands could have their designation changed at a later time by the BLM.

The order also directs the BLM to maintain an inventory of public land with wilderness characteristics. It doesn’t affect existing wilderness or wilderness study areas.

“We are charting a new course for balanced land management which allows the BLM to take into account all of the resources for which it is responsible through a transparent, public land use planning process,” Abbey said.

With the outdoor gear retailer as a backdrop, Salazar pitched the move as a job creator, rather than one that would threaten oil and gas jobs.

“The tired and simply wrong debate of jobs versus preservation has been replaced by a jobs versus jobs discussion,” said Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, who appeared with Salazar and has advocated on behalf of public land protections.

The BLM manages 245 million acres of land in 11 western states and Alaska, including 8.7 million acres preserved as wilderness and 13 million acres designated as wilderness study areas.

David Frey writes at www.davidmfrey.com and on Twitter.

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4 comments

  1. Yep, here comes the end run around Congress. Just like Bruce Babbitt. I loved the parts about how “citizen groups” can raise recommendations through RMP scoping processes. And this time, roads not being maintained through “mechanical” means are invisible for the purposes of “Wild Lands.”
    However, it is probably going to be a simple matter for Congress not to fund the process. And since the House writes the appropriation bills, that’s probably what’s gonna happen.
    Wow, that Ken Salazar sure turned out to be a moderate…..

  2. Salazar has returned BLM policy to where it was under the Reagan and Clinton administrations. Wilderness was considered one of the many resources BLM would consider in planning the uses of the public lands. The road definition used in BLM wilderness inventories is the one Congress specified for the wilderness program in 1976 in the legislative history of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

  3. No, Geezer, you are wrong.
    This is not a mere return.
    FLPMA Section 603 of FLPMA puts some pretty strict limits on what is and is not wilderness.
    The 603 review was intended to take 15 years. BLM would look at everything, and study the ground that appeared suitable, and set aside that which was clearly not for a study to be finished in 1991.
    That was duly conducted, and completed, but the results weren’t enough for the Greens so they have tried to restart and/or bypass Congressional intent by any means possible.
    That was with Babbitt’s game, and now again with Salazar’s. This is a completely dishonest approach. Hurry up 2012 Election.

  4. It’s true there are those who think BLM’s only authority to consider wilderness values comes from section 603 of FLPMA. I see it differently because I was in the room in 1975-76 when the congressional committees wrote section 603. They wanted BLM to do a 15-year wilderness inventory and study to catch BLM up to what the Forest Service, NPS and FWS had already done starting in 1964 under the mandate of the Wilderness Act. FLPMA doesn’t say that BLM will never again consider wilderness. It certainly doesn’t bar BLM from considering wilderness on the same basis as other resources. You wouldn’t bar BLM from considering oil and gas, ORV recreation, or timber production, so it’s not logical to bar BLM from considering wilderness.