Under much duress from Congress, the Obama administration is backing away from a plan to turn millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West into the federal wilderness protection.
Ken Salazar, interior secretary said in a memo last Wednesday his agency won’t designate any of those public lands as “wild lands“. Instead, Salazar said that officials will be working in concert with members of Congress to develop recommendations for managing millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West.
A budget deal approved by Congress prevented the Interior Department from spending money to implement the wilderness policy. GOP lawmakers complained that the plan would circumvent Congress’ authority and easily be used for declaring a vast swath of public land off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling.
Republican governors in Alaska, Utah and Wyoming, filed suit to block the move, claiming that it would injure their state’s economies by taking federal lands off the table for mineral production and the like.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said:
“Since the majority of land in Utah is owned by the federal government, it is critically important to strike a balance between the needs of our local communities and the protection of public lands that truly do have wilderness characteristics rather than pandering to environmental extremists…Today’s announcement is a positive step toward restoring that balance…Without strong and decisive action from the Department of Interior, wilderness will not be given the protection it is due, putting millions of acres of public lands at risk…”