Backroom deal places wilderness last

Trin Alcove (Labyrinth Canyon)
Labyrinth Canyon, photo copyright
Tom Till

Last Friday night, in a stunning show of disrespect for the last remaining magnificent wild lands in Utah and throughout the West, the Obama administration struck a deal with Republicans that threw the Interior Department’s recently established Wild Lands policy out the window.

Consequently, the continuing budget resolution that keeps the federal government in business until September includes a provision that bars the Interior Department from spending any money on implementing the Wild Lands policy.  The House will vote on the package tomorrow (Wednesday, April 13).

The Wild Lands policy was important because it provided a framework under which wilderness-quality BLM lands would be reviewed and then considered for protective management.  BLM had operated under a similar policy for 27 years, until 2003, when the Bush administration signed off on a secret deal that disavowed its authority to protect wilderness-quality lands.  After the deal, BLM operated as if there were only one resource it could not manage and protect: wilderness.

Of course, the 2003 deal was contrary to federal law.  Wilderness is a “multiple use” which BLM has the authority to protect.  The Wild Lands policy simply recognized that fact, and gave clear direction and a structure to BLM staff throughout the West to make good on their wilderness responsibilities.  Without the order, many BLM staff at the local and state levels were reluctant to protect wilderness for a variety of reasons, including uncertainty about their duties and whether they would get support for protecting worthy areas.

At stake now are millions of acres of Utah’s redrock wilderness that the Bush BLM acknowledged contain wilderness values but declined to protect.  Many of these acres were on track to gain increased protections from oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicle damage that had been authorized by the Bush-era BLM.  Now, that progress is threatened as Big Oil and other wilderness foes in Congress pressure the White House to trample our wilderness heritage.

We need YOU to tell your members of Congress TODAY that the provision to defund the Wild Lands policy is unacceptable and should not be passed into law.