Salazar issues controversial order to protect “wild lands”

Dec 31, 2010

Environmental activists celebrated Christmas two days early this year, as Secretary of Interior Salazar delivered up a long-hopedfor prize: creating a new land classification which would authorize the BLM to effectively manage lands as wilderness without the approval of Congress.

Salazar’s December 23rd Order directs the BLM to designate “appropriate” lands with wilderness characteristics (henceforth to be called “LWCs”) as “Wild Lands,” which would be managed to preserve wilderness values similar to Congressionally designated Wilderness Areas. Yet because Wild Lands would be designated through the local land use planning process, their status would be reversible, at least in theory, through subsequent planning efforts.

“Areas with wilderness characteristics” are lands that have the qualities of wilderness as specified in the 1964 Wilderness Act. They potentially qualify for Congressional designation as Wilderness Areas, but have not received a Congressional designation.

In effect, the new Wild Lands designation makes it possible for the BLM to manage LWCs as wilderness even though 1) they have not come up for Congressional consideration as a Wilderness Area, 2) they are awaiting Congressional consideration, or 3) they have been rejected by Congress as a Wilderness Area.

The move represents a sea change in how multiple uses on BLM lands are to be managed.

LWCs have long been understood to have “wilderness values” as one among many other values that the BLM manages for, which may also include mineral, grazing, or recreational values. If deemed appropriate through land use planning, the BLM could elect to manage LCWs in such a way that wilderness characteristics were impaired, say, by allowing for the maintenance of a road.

By contrast, the new Secretarial Order requires that the BLM protect the wilderness values on LW- Cs by designating all LWCs as Wild Lands, unless there are very particular reasons why such values should be impaired. This effectively makes “Wild Lands” the

See NCLS on page 15