Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that BLM will not designate any Wild Lands under the new Wild Land Policy he announced in December, and which many in the outdoor industry fought hard to defend. Congress voted to deny any funding to implement the policy in April as part of the 2011 budget deal, and the Obama Administration acquiesced. In his statement today, Salazar essentially gives up on the Wild Land Policy. This is a major disappointment on many obvious levels, not least of which is the amount of energy we – our member companies, OIA, and The Conservation Alliance – put in to defending an Obama Administration policy that the administration then abandoned. More important, the millions of acres of lands that qualify for Wild Land designation are once again threatened without an obvious and timely path to protection.
If there is any good news here it is that we can now get back to talking about Wilderness designations on the local level without having to fight over a nationwide policy that had turned into a galvanizing force for anti-conservation voices in Congress. Most of our grantees are working on local, place-based campaigns to protect specific public lands as Wilderness. The Conservation Alliance got involved in defending the Wild Land Policy largely because it offered to provide interim protection for millions of acres of lands that we’d ultimately like to see designated as Wilderness, a higher form of protection. The projects we have funded remain viable, and our grantees are working hard to move them through Congress. To be clear, Wilderness bills will be very hard to pass in this Congress, but at least now we can get back to talking about the merits of those bills, without also having to talk about the Wild Land Policy.
Ultimately, it appears the Obama Administration decided that defending the Wild Land Policy in the face of rising gas prices (even though the policy itself would have no impact on gas prices) and angry members of Congress just wasn’t worth it. Disappointing, yes. But now we just focus on those campaigns that have broad local support.
Update: The following statement is from William H. Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society:
“We are deeply disappointed in Secretary Salazar’s decision today to undermine his Wild Lands policy. This policy helped provide the guidance needed by the Bureau of Land Management to properly manage lands as required by the Federal Land policy and Management Act of 1976. Today’s memorandum ignores the BLM’s obligation to protect wilderness values and effectively lets stand former Secretary Gale Norton’s deeply flawed decision to prohibit the BLM from properly managing those public lands that harbor wilderness values. Without strong and decisive action from the Department of Interior, wilderness will not be given the protection it is due, putting millions of acres of public lands at risk. It’s important to keep in mind that these lands belong to all Americans. This apparent capitulation to opponents of wilderness protection is deeply disturbing – we hope the Secretary will reassert his previous leadership in recognizing the Interior Department’s responsibly to protect our most sensitive landscapes for future generations.”