President Obama signed a Presidential Proclamation last week which recognized September as “National Wilderness Month.” Invoking the “majesty of our Nation’s wilderness” and a rich legacy of past wilderness legislation, the president rightly recognized that “we must ensure that future generations can experience the tranquility and grandeur of America’s
But even as President Obama emphasized the need to protect the natural heritage of future generations, over at the Department of Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar has kept in place highly destructive policies initiated by the Bush administration which threaten the pristine natural beauty, quiet and solitude of worthy wilderness-quality lands throughout the West.
The Bush administration’s infamous “No More Wilderness” policy, hatched as part of a back-room settlement with the State of Utah, broke with history and for the first time declared that the Bureau of Land Management would no longer identify and protect eligible lands as “wilderness study areas.” These WSAs, as they are frequently called, are protected from off-road vehicle (ORV) use, new roads, oil and gas drilling and other development until Congress ultimately decides their fate through
Then the Bush administration doubled down and used the “No More Wilderness” policy as the backbone for six land use plans it issued for 11 million acres of Utah’s spectacular redrock canyon country. With wilderness now the only resource which the BLM would not manage or protect, the final plans left 80% of these lands open to oil and gas drilling and designated an astounding 20,000 miles of ORV routes. Balanced stewardship of our natural heritage? Not even close.
In some of the plans, every single riparian area has an ORV trail, leading to pollution, erosion, shrinking water availability and lost wildlife habitat. These crucial oases have been whittled down to 1% of Utah’s land mass and support 75-80% of wildlife species, yet BLM manages them as ORV playgrounds. Climate change, the overriding influence on the health of BLM lands, got just three paragraphs of the same boilerplate language in each of the 1,000-page Environmental Impact Statements instead of any real analysis.
Not only does the “No More Wilderness” policy live on in the Obama administration, but Secretary Salazar has failed to revise the 2008 land use plans to reflect better balance either or real wilderness protection.
Here’s what Secretary Salazar must do to restore balance and give wilderness landscapes the protection they need: immediately rescind the “No More Wilderness” policy and reinstate the previous process in which the agency identified qualifying lands and then planned for their future management as WSAs. BLM managers are familiar with this process and there’s no ambiguity in how WSAs are to be managed. Accept no substitute: Anything less will lead to endless disagreements about management and interpretation, to the detriment of some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country.
Additionally, the Secretary must direct the BLM to take another look at the woefully inadequate and unbalanced Resource Management Plans and put in place management strategies that ensure the future sustainability of these truly wondrous places.
You may be wondering: why are we still talking about this a full eighteen months into the Obama administration? Good question. You ask them . . . send a message to Secretary Salazar and email the Obama administration at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the White House webform at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact.