Thursday, June 02, 2011

Obama Administration Backs Away From Wilderness Plan

The Obama administration is dropping a controversial plan to restore eligibility for federal wilderness protection to millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West after the GOP-led House put up a strong fight. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a memo Wednesday that his agency will not designate any of those public lands as "wild lands." Instead Salazar said officials will work with members of Congress to develop recommendations for managing millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Associated Press. Salazar's decision reverses an order issued in December to reverse a Bush-era policy that opened some Western lands to commercial development. A budget deal approved by Congress prevented the Interior Department from spending money to implement the wilderness policy. GOP lawmakers complained that the plan would circumvent Congress' authority and could be used to declare a vast swath of public land off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling. Republican governors in Utah, Alaska and Wyoming, filed suit to block the plan, saying it would hurt their state's economies by taking federal lands off the table for mineral production and other uses...more

When Salazar announced his plan last December all the headlines and stories said Salazar had "reversed" the Bush policy on wilderness. Now that he has withdrawn the reversal, that must mean he's back to implementing the Bush policy, right?

Actually he never reversed the Bush policy, he just went around it. In a legal settlement Bush had agreed BLM's authority to designate Wilderness Study Areas under Sec. 603 of FLPMA had expired. Salazar said ok, then I will issue a Secretarial Order which directs the BLM to designate "Wild Lands" under Sec. 202 of FLPMA. Kind of cute don't you see. Don't disturb the Bush court settlement, just go around it by using a different section of FLPMA to accomplish what was essentially the same thing.

There was also the cute way they announced the policy. Recall there was an attempt by Senators Reid and Bingaman to include an Omnibus Public Lands Bill in the budget in the waning hours of the last Congress. Salazar held back the policy waiting to see if the bill would pass and when it didn't he waited till Congress had adjourned and left town to announce his little jewel.

Well it turns out it may have been just a little too cute.

Republican members of Congress were outraged saying it was the prerogative of Congress do designate wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act. There must have been some Dem's who didn't like it either as the program was defunded in the recently passed budget.

The Governors of Utah, Wyoming and Alaska had sued to overturn the Secretarial Order.

Many are saying the Congressional opposition along with the recently filed lawsuits led to the reversal of policy. I'm sure they were important but I believe there was another factor lurking in the decision. There is an election coming up in 2012 and Obama's "War On The West" is unpopular in many quarters. I can't help but believe presidential politics also played a hand in this.

Let's not forget, though, the enviro's are very unhappy. Scott Groene of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called the Obama administration “a steady and enormous disappointment on public lands.” As we near the 2012 election expect Obama to be under heavy pressure to placate the enviros. And how to do this? I'm afraid it's called National Monuments by Presidential decree. Remember Clinton? Will we see a replay?

In the meantime, here's some more headlines for your reading pleasure followed by Salazar's memo:

Salazar shelves policy to analyze more acres for wilderness protection  Washington Post

Salazar backpedals: Politics stalls wilderness designation, again  LA Times

See No Wild Lands, Speak No Wild Lands
  NY Times

Obama abandons wilderness plan  AP


JUN 0.1 2011


To:  Director, Bureau of Land Management

From:  Secretary

Re:  Wilderness Policy

Congressionally approved wilderness areas are an important part of the conservation assets of the United States. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently manages 221 wilderness areas and 545 wilderness study areas designated by Congress, which comprise approximately 8.8 percent of the nearly 245 million acres managed by the BLM.
There is longstanding support for the designation of wilderness areas. A number of proposed wilderness designations are pending before the I 12th Congress, and other areas are being actively considered for additions to the wilderness system. Wilderness areas provide a number of benefits, including unique hunting, fishing, and recreational opportunities.
The BLM maintains an inventory of all lands under its jurisdiction, pursuant to Section 20 I of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). As these inventories confirm, the BLM manages large landscapes that have wilderness characteristics.
On December 22,2010, I issued Secretarial Order 3310 to address the BLM's management of wilderness resources on lands under its jurisdiction. Under Secretarial Order 3310, I ordered the BLM to use the public resource management planning process to designate certain lands with wilderness characteristics as "Wild Lands."
On April 14, 20 II, the United States Congress passed the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 201 1 (Pub. L. 1 12-1 0)(20 1 1 CR), 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.
I am confirming today that, pursuant to the 20 II CR, the BLM will not designate any lands as "Wild Lands."
As required by law, the BLM will continue to maintain inventories of lands under its jurisdiction, including lands with wilderness characteristics. Also, consistent with FLPMA and other applicable authorities, the BLM will consider the wilderness characteristics of public lands when undertaking its multiple use land use planning and when making project-level decisions. In that regard, I am directing Deputy Secretary David Hayes to work with the BLM and interested parties to develop recommendations regarding the management of BLM lands with wilderness characteristics.
Based on my conversations with members of Congress, there is broad interest in managing our public lands in a sensible manner that takes into account such lands' wilderness qualities. There continues to be broad support for providing permanent protection for some of those lands under the Wilderness Act.
Given our shared interests in managing the public lands for the benefit of our communities and for future generations, the Department of the Interior will be soliciting 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. I am directing the Deputy Secretary to work with the BLM to deliver a report to me and to the Congress regarding those areas.

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