Thursday, June 02, 2011

DOI Memo Clarifies Continuing Responsibilities For "Wild Lands"

Jun 1: In a memo to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar confirmed that, pursuant to the 2011 Continuing Resolution, the BLM will not designate any lands as "Wild Lands," and outlined how the Department will work in collaboration 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. Salazar said, "The protection of America's wilderness for hunting, fishing, and backcountry recreation should be a unifying issue that mobilizes us to a common purpose. 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."

    In the memo, Secretary Salazar directs Deputy Secretary David 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 (FLPMA), including the requirement that it maintain inventories of the public lands, their resources and other values that it manages. 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 (Section 1769) that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310 in fiscal year 2011.

    U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), a critic of the Administration's management of wild, wilderness and roadless areas, released a statement regarding DOI's decision to abandon what he called "its sweeping wild lands order (Secretarial Order 3310)." He said, "This Administration's 'wild lands' proposal was misguided right out of the box. Public lands should be managed in a way that provides the greatest benefit to the public. This anti-multiple use order would have severely limited access to public lands and threatened Western economies. 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. I look forward to working with Secretary Salazar to ensure that we achieve this goal. I will fight any additional attempts by Washington to backdoor designate de-facto wilderness areas."
    On May 26, Senator Barrasso and other Senators introduced the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (S.1087). According to a release from Sen. Barrasso at that time he said the bill will "fix a broken Washington system that has kept millions of acres of non-wilderness land off limits for decades." Ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) are the lead co-sponsors of the bill. The bill has been endorsed by over 90 different agriculture, recreation and sportsmen organizations [See WIMS 5/26/11]. A similar bill (H.R.1581) was introduced in the House in April by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
    House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) issued a statement saying, "It's welcome news that the Interior Department will follow the law. After this positive initial step of halting the 'Wild Lands' order, we'll be taking a close look at how the Administration proceeds. Congressional oversight has served a vital role in this entire process and the Committee's active oversight on this matter will continue. Attempts to prohibit forms of public access, block job-creating activities and manage land as wilderness, even though they haven't been designated as such by Congress, will be met with a strong reaction by this Committee. It's important that BLM maintains this new promise of an open process, through conversations with interested parties, states, and Congress."
    William Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society issued a statement calling the DOI announcement disappointing. He said, "We are deeply disappointed in Secretary Salazar's decision today to undermine his Wild Lands policy. 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."

    Access a release from DOI (click here). Access Secretary Salazar's signed memo (click here). Access the BLM Wilderness Areas website for more information (click here). Access a release from Sen. Barrasso with additional information (click here). Access a release from Rep. Hastings (click here). Access a release from The Wilderness Society and link to more information on wild land policy (click here). Access legislative details for S.1087 (click here, posted soon). Access legislative details for H.R.1581 (click here). [*Land]