Although it was officially blamed on budget cuts, many observers see Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s decision Wednesday to halt plans to identify potential new wilderness areas on BLM ground as a political retreat from the wild-lands policy he announced in December. But, whether budget-driven or politically motivated, Salazar’s decision is a sound one.
We don’t believe the wild-lands plan was as extreme as some critics contend. There was room for multiple uses and community input under Salazar’s plan.
Even so, it set up a needless fight between the administration and Congress over which branch of government has authority to designate wilderness areas. Beyond that, it created more uncertainty for energy producers and others developing natural resources on federal lands. This, when the economy is still struggling to recover and more domestic energy production is clearly needed.
Given that those issues haven’t improved since December, and President Barack Obama is gearing up for a tough re-election fight, it’s not unreasonable to conclude there was a good bit of political calculation in Salazar’s wild-lands reversal.
Even so, it was a welcome action, coupled as it was with Salazar’s pledge to work with communities and members of Congress on future wilderness plans.