Utah Wilderness News, October 29, 2010

Widely criticized “No More Wilderness” Policy should be changed

Seven years ago, the U.S. Interior secretary and the governor of Utah cut a land management deal that has reverberated across the West ever since.

Through an unprecedented interpretation of federal law, this agreement allowed for the removal of federal protections from some 2.6 million acres of public land in Utah being contemplated for wilderness preservation. The resulting national policy, which came to be known as “no more wilderness,” has left some 500,000 acres of prime wilderness areas in Colorado vulnerable to activity, such as drilling, that could make it forever ineligible for protection.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar should order his agency to reverse course. These wild and beautiful places ought to be safeguarded while federal lawmakers mull whether they ought to be given more permanent protection.  Editorial – The Denver Post

Conservation Groups ask BLM to abandon 2003 wilderness policy

“But without secretarial guidance on the establishment of WSAs, the Interior Department is putting at risk millions of acres of remote Western lands, some of which could be opened to oil and gas exploration or off-highway vehicle (OHV) access, said Nada Culver, director of the Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center in Denver.

‘Everywhere BLM manages land there has been damage, there has been impacts,’ she said. ‘It’s directly attributable to the lack of guidance and the related downgrading of the wilderness resource that came from the settlement.’

In Utah alone, BLM has finalized six resource management plans since the 2003 settlement covering roughly 11 million acres, but those plans established no new wilderness study areas, said Heidi McIntosh, associate director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

In the 1.8-million-acre Moab planning area, for example, BLM identified 266,000 acres that contained wilderness qualities but was able to set aside only 48,000 acres as a ‘special recreation management area,’ McIntosh said.

‘This agreement really drove a stake right through the heart of some of these really fabulous places,’ she said.

McIntosh said the establishment of WSAs is an increasingly important tool for the Interior Department at a time when so much Western land is in flux, with varied interest groups vying for access and development rights on wilderness-quality tracts. Bills that could designate more than 4 million acres of new wilderness are currently in the legislative pipeline, but prospects for passage are dim given Congress’s short November-December session.

And with Republicans projected to reclaim the House and possibly the Senate in next week’s mid-term elections, the designation of new wilderness could become even less likely, she said.

‘It’s always a difficult task, and it’s only going to get harder’ if Republicans gain a majority in one or both chambers, she said. ‘It becomes even more important that the administration use its authority to protect these special places.’  Read more – Land Letter (subscription only)

Nine Mile Canyon has a new corporate partner

“An energy company drilling for natural gas above Nine Mile Canyon is offering up to $5 million in grants to help study, protect and promote thousands of rock-art panels and long-abandoned American Indian sites.

Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp., which previously reached a compromise with environmentalists and archaeologists to use the canyon road to reach its West Tavaputs Plateau well field, this week announced the grant program to assist in protection.”  Read more – The Salt Lake Tribune


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