Critics blast ‘wild lands’ designation

Proposal derided as end run around congressional power

A proposal to establish “wild lands” on property managed by the Bureau of Land Management amounts to an end run around Congress, critics said Thursday during a Club 20 committee meeting.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year introduced the designation of wild lands as part of the department’s landscape conservation system. The agency now is beginning the process of identifying lands that could qualify to be considered for the designation.

Under Salazar’s Secretarial Order 3310, wild lands could be designated as the result of land-management processes conducted by local Bureau of Land Management offices after seeking public comment.

Denunciation of Salazar’s proposal was the overwhelming sentiment during the Club 20 meeting, which was attended by about 45 people.

Kathy Hall, a former Club 20 chairwoman, called the designation an “underhanded attempt to create wilderness” by administrative action instead of by an act of Congress.

One criteria for the designation of a wild land would be the opportunity afforded for solitude and personal reflection.

“What does that crap have to do with anything?” rancher Harry Peroulis said.

Wild lands designations could harm the region’s energy economy, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association.

“It’s kind of hard to put a lot of emphasis on solitude and reflection when you’re out of a job,” Ludlam said.

Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy organization, already opposes the establishment of wilderness without congressional action, and it will communicate its opposition to the order by letter to Salazar, said Bonnie Petersen, the group’s incoming executive director.

Salazar’s order directs the BLM to protect wilderness characteristics through land planning and decisions on projects unless it determines “that impairment of wilderness characteristics is appropriate and consistent” with federal law and other management considerations.

For instance, Robert Towne, deputy assistant director for the national landscape conservation system and community partnerships, told the committee via speakerphone from Washington, D.C., that the agency wouldn’t necessarily oppose development of projects, such as a wind turbine, within view of a designated wild land.

The BLM, like other land-management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, is required to maintain an inventory of lands with wilderness characteristics.

The beginning of the process of identifying wild lands was reminiscent of 10 years and one month previous, when the Forest Service began an inventory of roadless areas, Club 20 member Kathy Welt of Delta said.

That process was to result in a “roadless rule” that would govern management of those lands.

“And there’s still no roadless rule for national forest system lands,” Welt said.

A rule drafted by the Clinton administration was rejected by the Bush administration, whose own rule was later rejected by federal courts. Roadless rules now are under consideration by the Obama administration.

The upshot has been de facto wilderness established without public input, Welt said.

Wild lands designations, however, won’t have the heft of wilderness designations, Towne said.

Such decisions “are on the low end of permanence,” Towne said.

Wild lands designations would not only be made after gathering public comment, but after a protest or appeal period that would precede any opportunity to challenge the designation in court, Towne said.


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