BLM Wild Lands policy deserves praise

 

By Joel Webster

If a misleading statement is repeated often enough, some people will begin to believe it. That appears to be the strategy of those working to overturn the Bureau of Land Management “wild lands” policy that was introduced in December by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Beyond the misleading rhetoric are some hard facts: The BLM wild lands policy assures that the agency will follow federal law. It requires public involvement while creating opportunities to conserve prime fish and wildlife habitat. It offers a common-sense resolution to the uncertainties currently surrounding management of valuable public lands. The policy’s future remains uncertain, however.  Hunters and anglers need support from western U.S. senators and representatives to uphold and defend this important conservation tool.

In 1976, Congress passed a law called the Federal Lands Policy Management Act that requires the BLM to keep an updated inventory of lands; develop, maintain and revise land-use plans; and periodically recommend to the president areas deserving of wilderness conservation. In response, the BLM issued national direction for local field offices to ensure their compliance with the law. That guidance stood until 2003, when the DOI established a questionable agreement with the state of Utah, effectively eliminating clear national guidance for the responsible management of wild public lands.

The result was an erratic approach to undeveloped BLM lands management. The recent wild lands policy should provide consistency to the analysis and consideration of these BLM lands as required by law.

Specifically, the policy directs the BLM to solicit public input and consider values of existing wild public lands during local planning efforts. Lands determined worthy of conservation measures will be designated “wild lands,” and the agency will actively work to uphold their primitive character.

First and foremost, the policy brings BLM land management back into compliance with federal law. Yet it also is supported by sportsmen across the country because of the benefits it offers core fish and wildlife habitat – places that allow us to stalk big bucks and bulls, land wild trout and experience the outdoors in a wild and unsullied state.

Decades of scientific studies show that certain public lands, such as undeveloped BLM lands, provide large blocks of undisturbed habitat where big-game animals like mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep can flourish. These lands also offer intact watersheds where wild trout and salmon – dependent on clean water, stable streamflows and consistent lake levels – can thrive. Conservation of these lands and waters generally results in increased hunting and fishing opportunity and higher-quality outdoor experiences.

Opponents to the wild lands policy want the public to believe that this order will result in a D.C.-driven land grab. In reality, the policy provides hunters and anglers opportunities to keep prime big-game habitat and trout waters the way they have been for generations. Notably, it creates an enormous opportunity for average sportsmen to participate in a transparent and open land-use planning process that will help conserve valuable fish and wildlife habitat and equal-opportunity hunting and angling activities on our public lands.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives passed a budget bill that would prohibit the BLM from carrying out this important policy. If this language is included in the final budget, it not only would prohibit the BLM from following FLPMA; it also would prevent the agency from analyzing and conserving some of the finest backcountry fish and wildlife habitat in the nation.

Sportsmen need western decision makers to keep the wild lands funding prohibition out of the final budget bill. Strong leadership on this issue is the right course of action in returning much-needed consistency to management of our public lands. It also will help guarantee the future of our backcountry public-lands hunting and fishing traditions – an outdoors legacy that defines the American identity.

This post originally appeared at NewWest.net. Joel Webster is a born and raised Western sportsman and is director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands. He writes from Missoula, Montana. This column also appeared in the Denver Post.

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