By: Robert Janis
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
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
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
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. “