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By: Robert Janis

U.S. Department of Interior

Is the Department of Interior Planning a Land Grab?

People involved in ATV recreation rely on access to public lands to do their riding or get to where they wish to ride. Many excellent trails are located in public land areas which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. For the most part, recreationists and the government have achieved a balance as the federal government tolerates the use of ATVs and other motorized off-road vehicles on the land they manage. But something is going on with the Department of Interior--more specifically with the Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, and it is getting many OHV recreational advocates worried.

One of those who feel that the community should watch out is Brian Hawthorne of the BlueRibbon Coalition. In an article in the BlueRibbon Coalition newsletter, Hawthorne noted that Salazar has been circulating a “secret memo” detailing a new vision for the Bureau of Land Management. The document is titled “Our Vision--Our Values” which muses about a different policy through which the BLM can manage public lands under its authority.

Hawthorne argues that the “Vision” would change BLM’s current policy of multiple use and sustained yield and instead adopt a much more preservationis- oriented type of management. The policy, if accepted, would allow areas currently in the National Landscape Conservation System--National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, Outstanding Natural Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands within the California desert--to be “confiscated” from public use and given a “protective designation.” In other words, if areas that include an OHV trail system are adjacent to a National Landscape Conservation System, then that land could be closed from use by OHV riders.

The plan would be based on three principles--Designate, Rationalize, and Manage-at-Scale.

Designate refers to adding more lands to the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) for “protection.” Rationalize refers to what the “Vision” document claims will be a more efficient and effective landscape-scale management of the territory that is under the control of BLM. The rationalize aspect of the policy would eliminate the existence of so-called checkerboard land holding patterns. In other words, the federal government would buy private lands within or adjacent to NLCS lands. Finally, Hawthorne said that the third principle, Manage-to-Scale, is where Salazar’s staff shows the intent to abandon multiple-use management. “The Manage-to-scale section of the Vision document includes direction to put preservation-oriented values first, before recreation or any other use,” Hawthorne said. This would mean that BLM would manage all of their lands in a manner that would focus on ecosystem-service values.

Hawthorne points out that when Salazar started musing about this plan and passing a memo on it to the internal staff of the Department of Interior, the idea was supposed to be private and not for public release. The memo found its way to the Internet and someone discovered it. “It was an internal draft not for release, a discussion paper for the staff of the Bureau of Land Management,” said Hawthorne.

“No one was paying attention. However, someone found it, read a section of the document, and then leaked it.”

Hawthorne said that minority members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Resource Committee read the section of the memo that was leaked and demanded that Interior Secretary Salazar release the whole memo.

Salazar said that the memo was a draft and that there was no “immediate” plans to act upon it. He referred to it as just “brainstorming” and then he released the entire memo.

Obviously, a controversy started and since then Salazar has drafted an answer which has been released by the Public Affairs Department of the Department of Interior in response to media questions concerning the issue.

The release reads:

“Secretary Salazar believes it is important that the Department of Interior serve as wise stewards of the places that matter most to Americans. For that reason, he has asked Department of Interior’s bureaus to think about what areas might be worth considering for further review for possible special management of Congressional designation. The preliminary internal discussion draft reflects some brainstorming discussions within BLM, but no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration.

Secretary Salazar believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities. In the past months, Secretary Salazar and administration officials have held listening sessions across the country as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.  To date, there have been over 20 forums, including youth listening sessions, where members of the public have participated in the national dialogue about conservation and reconnecting Americans to the outdoors. Secretary Salazar will continue to listen, learn, and seek common-sense ways to support the good work that is happening in communities across the country. “

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