Why Salazar backed down from Wild Lands

 

By Matthew H. Davis

After strong opposition from several Western states and a pending lawsuit, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is backing down from his controversial “Wild Lands” policy. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a law suit proposed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, which was also supported by governors from Wyoming and Alaska, as well as the recent budget deal which prevented the Interior Department from funding the plan.

“I am confirming today that the Bureau of Land Management will not designate land as ‘Wild Lands,’” Salazar said in a memo to Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management.

Instead, Salazar said he would work with locally supported efforts to preserve wilderness. 

“We will focus our effort on building consensus around locally supported initiatives and working with members of Congress, states, tribes and local communites to advance their priorities for wilderness designations in their states and districts,” he said in a release this week. “Together, we can advance America’s proud wilderness legacy for future generations.”

But considering Salazar aide Scott Black told the Casper Star-Tribune in Feburary, “I don’t think you should expect material delay or change in the direction of the (Wild Lands policy),” it leaves one wondering: What made Salazar change his mind?

Last month, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert introduced a lawsuit attempting to void the the “Wild Lands” policy. At a press conference introducing the legislation, Herbert described the order as “being created out of thin air”—a reference to the fact that the secretarial order was introduced when Congress was adjourned for the holidays. 

In describing the bill, Herbert pointed to the fact that the Wild Lands policy would override state processes for development of public land.

“It puts a wet blanket on the processes we have in place already here in Utah to determine wilderness,” Herbert said. “Our concern is that this does not help us find out what areas are wilderness, this just gets in the way of a process we’ve already utilized.  This jeopardizes the multiple use of our public lands.”

Almost immediately after Utah filed the suit, Alaska was ready to support the legal proceedings, and last week Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and the state of Wyoming filed papers to join the litigation.

After Salazar’s announcement that he would be reversing the plan, Herbert was quick to issue a statement declaring victory.

“This is a win for Utah’s county by county process, which has proven successful in identifying wilderness,” he said in a statement. “I have defended Utah’s process in my multiple conversations with Secretary Salazar and Deputy (Interior Secretar David) Hayes, so I am pleased they are listening.”

“This may be a step in the right direction, but Utah will remain vigilant and engaged on this critical front,” Herbert added.

The lawsuit, coupled with the budget bill that defunded the plan, may have finally doomed the “Wild Lands” policy, but since its introduction in late December, the policy has been heavily contested in many Western states rich with public lands.

The vague language of the order and the the unknown effects the proposed order would have on a number of people who use public land for work or play were main reasons the secretarial order was so heavily criticized, said Michelle Subbotin, communications director for Utah Rep. Rob Bishop.

“The Wild Lands policy would not have allowed public lands users “to be included in an open and public process,” she said. “At the end of the day, people want their voices to be heard.”

The secretarial order most simply moved determining wilderness areas from Congress, as designated by the Wilderness Act of 1964, to the BLM, but left many questions about how and which lands would be designated.

“We’re pleased that (the Obama Administration) intends to uphold the intentions of the Wilderness Act of 1964,” Subbotin said.

Environmental groups criticized Salazar’s announcement Wednesday. In a blog post, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Scott Groene called the Obama administration “a steady and enormous disappointment on public lands.”

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Originally posted at NewWest.net

Image courtesy Flickr user lefromage
High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • RANCH HAND & HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN DURANGO, CO
    Remodeled home with the opportunity to work off part of rent. Renter(s) must be available to help with lifting, irrigation & outdoor chores, 15-40 hrs...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....