Just before Christmas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made a welcome announcement of a policy that returns the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to compliance with its mandate to identify and protect the wilderness values of the lands under the agencys care.
The order, issued Dec. 23, rectifies a damaging policy of the Bush administration that had eliminated the agencys long-standing ability to protect wilderness-quality lands for those wilderness qualities.
Salazars order restores wilderness as a valued resource on our public lands. Its a position that had been compromised by the Bush policy that essentially meant that no lands previously deemed wilderness-worthy could ever be added to the BLMs inventory and management of these important resources, therefore putting a cap on potential wilderness in our public lands. Eliminating that stance is an important nod to the agencys responsibility to manage for multiple uses.
Under the new policy, the agency is compelled to inventory its lands for wilderness qualities, and then manage them in a manner that protects these values namely naturalness, opportunities for solitude or primitive unconfined recreation. This guidance provides a number of mechanisms for public involvement in the inventory and subsequent management processes, and sets the overarching framework for adding new Wild Lands to the BLMs quiver of land-category options.
The intent behind Salazars announcement is encouraging; the rubber will meet the road, however, in the policys implementation. As the agency solidifies the components laid out in the December announcement, it can set a course for sound implementation by clarifying some of the language left hazy in the announcement.
From there, it will be important for the Interior Department to affirm in its guidance the fact that BLM managers at the state and local levels are compelled to actively manage any future Wild Lands for the values that deemed them such rather than seek ways to avoid the determination in the first place, or approve projects that undermine the characteristics that qualify the lands for protective management.
There is much opportunity in the policy to suggest that implementation will have a net positive effect on the ground. The BLM, for example, will be required to consider lands with wilderness characteristics when it conducts its planning processes. Further, the agency must also look at any citizen proposals for wilderness protection in those processes. That guidance provides a significant opportunity for public input, and is a welcome signal of the agencys return to a more balanced management strategy that meaningfully considers a range of values in making land-use decisions.
Salazars policy announcement was well-timed in its pre-Christmas delivery. By recognizing the value of the wild places encompassed in the United States public lands stockpile, Salazar has implicitly given a nod to the many people across the country who cherish these places for their wildness. That recognition of public sentiment is an important component of the multiple-use doctrine that guides the Bureau of Land Management in its task of caring for and balancing many oftentimes competing interests.
email@example.com Megan Graham is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.