Wildlands reconsidered

The acknowledgment by Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey Tuesday that federal officials “did a terrible job” of explaining a short-lived wildlands plan was a refreshing bit of reflection by a top federal official.

To be sure, the program was never the Washington land grab that many people in the West believed it to be. As we noted when the plan was announce a year ago, it aimed to recognize wildlands for special protection — short of what is accorded to congressionally designated wilderness areas. That recognition was to come only after consultation with area residents and community leaders.

Unfortunately, a variety of groups quickly painted the plan as a D.C.-driven program to close off more federal lands to resource development and other uses. Congress prevented the administration from spending money on any wildlands inventory, and the plan was put on indefinite hold earlier this year.

There are undoubtedly BLM lands deserving more protection. And there are some wilderness study areas that should be released to multiple-use management, as Republicans have suggested.

But, in the current, take-no-prisoners divide on environmental issues, a reasoned debate on such questions appears impossible.


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