Much smoke has been blown in the past six months — most often by the Utah congressional delegation — about “secret agendas” and “land grabs” being cooked up at the Department of Interior. Wilderness opponents cite the now notorious “monuments memo” – partially leaked in February and in its entirety last week—as evidence the Obama administration has secret plans to take over the West. Hardly. Even a casual reading of the 21-page document reveals what we would hope the federal government is doing – using sound scientific and land management principles to ensure the health of our special places in a future fraught with a changing climate and greater user demands on our public lands.
The section of the memo receiving the most attention deals with national monuments. In our view it’s a no-brainer: the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa (both highlighted for potential monument designation) are landscapes plainly deserving of monument status – just like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The scientific and historic values of these two places are undisputed and warrant immediate protection. We hope President Obama will recognize these values and act.
But that’s just one piece of the puzzle to restore balance to public lands management. Another notable section is entitled “Utilizing the Land-Use Planning Process to Account for Ecosystem Services Values and to Protect Lands that are Ineligible for Monument Designation”—a long title that really means restoring balance to public lands after eight miserable years of Republican rule. This section reads like a list of ideas most neglected and maligned by the Bush administration’s BLM. We hope these ideas will guide land use planning going forward. However, a year and a half into Obama’s term, we have seen little movement to fix six Utah resource management plans (RMPs) covering 11 million acres on the Colorado Plateau — plans rushed to completion at the end of the Bush administration to favor off-roaders and the oil and gas industry at the expense of wilderness-quality lands. BLM must take its own advice and bring balance to places like Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil and Moquith Mountain by amending the six RMPs and their accompanying travel plans to protect wilderness-quality lands.
An important tool in accomplishing this would be designating new wilderness study areas – an authority given up by the Bush administration’s “No More Wilderness” settlement. If you want to talk about a backroom deal, this one takes the cake, as it
left lands inventoried by the BLM as qualifying for wilderness protection unprotected and open to oil and gas and ORV damages. Overturning “No More Wilderness,” as suggested by over 50 leading law school professors, nearly 90 members of Congress and nearly every conservation group in the West, is essential to BLM’s ability to protect Utah’s and the West’s wild roadless landscapes.
So, take a moment and read the memo to see what BLM could and should be doing to safeguard our special places – and call on Secretary Salazar to follow through on his own staff’s recommendations!
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance