June 06, 2011 {authors} {/authors}

Why Salazar backed down on wild lands

Strong opposition from Western states made the difference

{authors} By Why Salazar backed down on wild lands {/authors}

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 lawsuit 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 “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.

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