Monday, January 03, 2011

Why was wilderness policy change necessary?

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's order on wildlands, announced the day before Christmas Eve, left me with several questions about this administration's commitment to growing jobs and the economy. Why did Salazar release the order after Congress had adjourned and state and local officials were distracted by the holidays? Perhaps he didn't want to face reaction from Western communities directly affected by the policy. Uintah County Commissioner Michael McKee did notice, and had this to say: "This order is a serious threat to the cherished American values of fairness and respect for local input over western public lands." Uintah County is already reeling from Interior's land-management policies, which have resulted in a loss of 4,000 jobs in that small, rural community. Why was Salazar surrounded only by environmentalists? Is it because the policy was imposed at their behest, without consideration for the hundreds of thousands of jobs across the West in energy, ranching, mining, logging and other productive uses of federal lands? It's no surprise that he dodged questions about receiving input from local communities on these decisions. After all, these policies have failed to garner the support of a majority of Western elected officials. More wilderness designations again failed to pass into law this year, even though Congress and the administration are controlled by Democrats supported by the environmental lobby. Why is this order even necessary? The Federal Land Policy Management Act has required a land-use planning process since 1976 that enables the Bureau of Land Management to identify resource values such as wilderness and provide appropriate protections. In fact, that is what the BLM did from 2001 to 2008 in Utah. In an open, public process in which everyone — federal, state and local governments, citizens, environmental groups, and industries — had the opportunity to provide input and comment, the BLM analyzed 2.8 million acres with "wilderness characteristics." Balancing input from all sectors of society, the BLM determined that about 450,000 acres met the criteria for wilderness and imposed additional protections. The BLM could continue to pursue this process in Colorado and other Western states. A dubious statement that BLM can designate "wild lands" outside the legal public process when it so desires is the only truly new provision in this secretarial order. This arbitrary provision will mean a practical veto over all other uses when special interests propose an area, despite what the larger public thinks...more

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