Administration officials talk wilderness in Salt Lake City

On August 3rd the “America’s Great Outdoors Listening Session” came to Salt Lake City. Hundreds of people gathered for the session, held in conjunction with the Outdoor Industry Association’s Summer Market.  Utah wilderness activists were everywhere wearing “Secretary Salazar: Protect Wild Utah” stickers and buttons and vastly outnumbering the small group of off-road vehicle enthusiasts who attended.

The session began with opening remarks by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  Secretary Salazar and Governor Herbert gave a shout out to SUWA citing our recent work to reach a deal with the Bill Barrett Corporation that allows for natural gas extraction on the Tavaputs plateau, but also protects wild lands from the impact of energy development.

Secretary Salazar also spoke in positive terms about Utah Senator Bennett’s work with San Juan County Commissioners to develop wilderness legislation.

Unfortunately, Secretary Salazar doesn’t know that this so-called “process” really now consists of the county commissioners developing a proposal in the “back-room”
(without input from SUWA and other Utah-based conservation groups) that would potentially provide LESS protection for San Juan County’s public lands and serve to ratify the Bush administration’s terrible land use plans.

What we didn’t hear from Secretary Salazar and BLM Director Abbey was anything specific with regard to using their authority to protect wilderness character lands – instead BLM Director Abbey talked in generalities about the need to manage lands for wilderness values until Congress makes a decision about wilderness designation.  And like Salazar, Abbey praised Sen. Bennett’s efforts to “work with all stakeholders” even though at present this is unfortunately not the case.

While it’s great that the high level officials from the Obama administration are taking the time to talk to people about “America’s Great Outdoors” and their rhetoric around this is generally good, we are still waiting for meaningful action.

Deeda Seed
SUWA Grassroots Outreach Director