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Old June 1st, 2011, 04:30 PM   #1
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Default Salazar Reverses COurse on 'Wild Lands'

Salazar Reverses Course on 'Wild Lands'

By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune
Posted: 06/01/2011 12:08:38 PM MDT

WASHINGTON Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has reversed his controversial order to allow the Bureau of Land Management to set aside federal acres as "wild lands" and now says he'll focus on locally-supported efforts to preserve wilderness.

Salazar said today he would shelve a policy he announced Dec. 23 to allow the federal agency to inventory and categorize wilderness-like areas as "wild lands," a move that reversed a 2003 agreement between then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then-Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. The Salazar announcement last year touched off a firestorm of complaints from Republicans and Utah officials.

The Utah Association of Counties and Uintah County filed suit against the Interior Department in March alleging it was overreaching its authority and that only Congress had the power to designate wilderness.

On Wednesday, Salazar said he would turn his attention to gathering input from members of Congress, local officials and other interested parties to protect sensitive areas.

"The protection of America's wilderness for hunting, fishing, and backcountry recreation should be a unifying issue that mobilizes us to a common purpose," Salazar said in a news release.

"We will focus our effort on building consensus around locally-supported initiatives and working with members (of Congress) to advance their priorities for wilderness designations in their states and districts. Together, we can advance America's proud wilderness legacy for future generations."

The announcement was a full 180-degree turn from Interior's full-throated defense of the "wild lands" policy, which Salazar said in December would ensure "that the lands of the American public are protected for current and future generations to come."

The secretarial order had galvanized critics of the Obama administration's public lands policies and fired up Republicans in Congress who said Interior was trying to lock up lands from potential oil and gas exploration.

Earlier this year, Republicans successfully struck funding for any action on the "wild lands" policy in a budget bill.

Sen. Orrin Hatch on Wednesday heralded Salazar's reversal.

"I'm gratified that they finally appear to understand that Washington arbitrarily restricting the use of our public lands is the wrong thing to do, especially during tough economic times and without any input from Congress or local officials," Hatch said. Environmental groups jeered Salazar's change of heart on his policy.

"Just five months ago, when he announced the wild lands policy, Secretary Salazar said that wilderness protection was a high priority for the BLM," said Heidi McIntosh, associate director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "Unfortunately, strident anti-wilderness representatives in Congress stripped the BLM of the funding necessary to implement the order, and this new memo recognizes that reality."

McIntosh said Salazar was bending to pressure from anti-wilderness members of Congress but should know there are plenty of members who supported his policy.

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