Some powerful federal lawmakers say the U.S. Interior Department has unilaterally resurrected the controversial Wild Lands policy that Congress terminated last year, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar initially unveiled the Wild Lands policy on Dec. 22, 2010. Under the policy, lands designated as Wild Lands
by the federal Bureau of Land Management would be managed as if they had received the restrictive Wilderness land-use designation from Congress. The policy circumvents any congressional input. When Congress designates an area as Wilderness -- one of the strictest forms of public land management -- nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation become illegal.
The Wild Lands policy announcement shocked the off-highway vehicle riding community because it was expected to have a far-reaching impact. The BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in 12 western states. Federal lawmakers considered the policy a "land grab" and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority.
Because of opposition from powerful federal lawmakers, governors, the AMA and other OHV enthusiasts, the Wild Lands policy hit a major snag on April 15, 2011.
That's when President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution -- the funding measure that kept the federal government operating through Sept. 30, 2011 -- which included language barring the Interior Department from using any funds to implement the Wild Lands land-use policy to manage land as if it had been designated as Wilderness.
On Aug. 2, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that Wild Lands has been revived.
A news release from Bishop's office states that BLM guidance manuals recently discovered by Bishop and Hatch show that the Interior Department "has resurrected the controversial Wild Lands policy killed by Congress
in April 2011. Included in the manuals is language directly lifted from Secretarial Order 3310 and its supporting documents, known as the DOI's Wild Lands memo, illustrating how BLM employees are to identify and manage lands with wilderness characteristics.
"Congressman Rob Bishop and Senator Orrin Hatch, along with other senators and representatives from the West, today issued a letter to Secretary Ken Salazar outlining concerns and questions about the DOI's efforts to re-establish Wild Lands through the new guidance manuals," the news release said.
"Even though these proposals have already been overwhelmingly rejected, the administration is attempting to administratively put these policies in place," Hatch said. "This proposal will give Washington bureaucrats more control over the lands in Utah and across the West. It's wrong, and the Interior Department needs to stop trying to keep the public off public lands."
Said Bishop: "I am troubled and angered by similarities found between the contents of the handbooks and the defunct Wild Lands proposal. This is clearly an effort to establish 'Wild Lands 2.0' and abandons all previous commitments Secretary Salazar made to me and many other western members to work openly and collaboratively on new land management practices.
"Excerpts within these handbooks clearly depict a thinly veiled effort on behalf of this administration to further limit access to our nation's public lands," he said. "I expect a prompt response from Secretary Salazar and will continue to pursue this issue to ensure that the livelihoods of westerners are protected."