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By: Robert Janis

U.S. Department of Interior

Department of Interior Creates New “Wild Lands” Designation

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has created a new “Wild Lands” designation further indicating that the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management plan to end access to some public lands under the management of the BLM. Off highway vehicle enthusiasts say that this will take away even more trails and roads from use by OHV recreationists.

The action comes in the wake of another controversy concerning access to public lands stemming from a memorandum authored by Salazar concerning National Monument designations. Salazar’s comments on this issue in what is called the “Our Vision--Our Values” memo indicated that the Department of Interior was considering expanding protection given to National Monuments to lands adjacent to them to prevent access to these lands. The Congress is considering legislation to curtail the Department’s possible plans to execute the policy. More on this issue can be found in the article “Is the Department of Interior Planning a Land Grab?” in the story archives of ATVSource.com.

According to the plan called Secretarial Order 3310 a public process must be followed before the land is designated as “Wild Lands.” This is different than two other designations--“Wilderness Areas” and “Wilderness Study Areas.” Only an act of Congress can designate “Wilderness Areas.” The BLM can designate “Wilderness Study Areas” which it can then manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect the land as Wilderness Areas or modify their management.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management explained that such a designation is necessary to provide guidance on how to inventory and manage lands with wilderness characteristics. According to the spokesman, the BLM has not had a plan that provides guidance of the management of lands with wilderness characteristics since 2003 when the management guidance which then existed was revoked as part of an out-of-court settlement between the then Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and the State of Utah and others. The spokesman said, “The guidance will bring consistency across the BLM and provide a process for conducting wilderness inventories and considering lands with wilderness characteristics in land use planning and project-level decisions. . . .  These new policies will support the Secretary’s Order and provide BLM State Offices with the structure needed to determine where wilderness characteristics exist on public lands and how to manage lands determined to have those characteristics.”

The spokesman further explained that under the new policy a wilderness inventory process will identify which lands should be classified as “Lands with Wilderness Characteristics.” He added that the process will consider a range of alternatives of protection and non-protection.

A decision to designate land as “Wild Lands” can be challenged by an individual or group but such a challenge must follow procedures set down in regulation 43 CFR 1610.5-2, said the spokesman.

The spokesman added, “The BLM will evaluate potential uses of lands with wilderness characteristics through an open, transparent, and public process. In accordance with the Secretary’s Order, the BLM may determine through its public land use planning process, with full public participation and input, that designation of some areas as Wild Lands is appropriate, consistent with other applicable requirements of law and other resource management considerations. The BLM may also determine through a public process that authorization of uses that may impair wilderness characteristics is appropriate for some areas, consistent with other applicable requirements of law and other resource management considerations.”

Michael Swenson, executive director of Utah Shared Access Alliance also known as USA-ALL, considers Salazar’s new policy an act of war in which the Department of Interior has allied itself with extreme environmentalists.

“In Utah, like so many other western states that have large amounts of public lands in their boundaries, we’ve had a long history with wilderness stemming from the late 1970s, through the ‘80s and reaching a fever pitch in the early ‘90s,” he said. “The debate essentially has been what lands should be designated Wilderness and what lands should remain in multiple use. In Utah, we have seen BLM recommendations (to designate as wilderness) from about 1.9 million acres on up. We’ve now seen environmental groups come forward with recommendations (to designate as Wilderness) that are approaching 10 million acres in our state. Other states have similar challenges. The problem that Wilderness presents for off-roaders and those who enjoy getting out and accessing public land in general whether it is for recreational purposes or occupational--such as natural resource extraction and more--is that it is a hindrance to access.”

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