Yesterday, forty-four members of Congress, led by wilderness champions Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Diana Degette (D-CO), called on President Obama to ensure that the Department of the Interior’s Wild Lands policy receives full funding in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.
This important letter comes in the wake of a recent backroom deal on the federal budget that stunningly left our wild public lands on the cutting room floor when radical Republican funding limitation language (also known as a rider) blocked implementation of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Secretarial Order 3310 – the Wild Lands policy. Salazar’s long awaited policy announcement reinstated and confirmed long-standing authorities to guide BLM staff in how to manage some of the most remarkable lands under its authority such as those in the Greater Canyonlands region, while Congress continues to consider wilderness legislation such as America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.
I’m thrilled to report that members of Congress from around the nation are standing up to the anti-wilderness forces behind the Wild Lands rider with yesterday’s letter to the President. This comes at a time when our wilderness heritage is under unprecedented attack from those who would prefer to see all public lands open to oil & gas drilling, mining and off-road vehicles. One need look no further than the recent introduction of companion bills in the House and Senate entitled “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act,” that would permanently repeal the Wild Lands policy and remove existing protections on over 40 million acres of public land throughout the nation, to see this radical agenda at work.
As noted in the Congressional letter, the Wild Lands policy is a sensible, legally justifiable approach to balance the various uses on public lands. Opponents of the policy misleadingly complain that the policy runs counter to BLM’s multiple-use mandate. What they leave out, however, is that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 says that the BLM, “where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition.” Clearly, the Congress did not intend to provide for every use on every acre. However, Congress did intend for robust public involvement in this sort of decision-making, which is an important component of the Wild Lands policy. This amounts to sound governance and fair processes to determine the future of our public lands – a process that we hope will bring needed protection to remarkable red rock landscapes in the Greater Canyonlands region like White Canyon.
There are surely still more threats coming to wilderness this Congress and we’ll continue to need help from the likes of those who signed the letter to the President yesterday. If your Representative signed the letter to President Obama, please be sure to thank him/her today and let them know how important this issue is to you! You can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be directed to your Representative’s office.