December 26, 2010

US To Restore Wilderness Rules For Public Lands

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday that the Obama administration plans to reverse a Bush-era policy and make millions of undeveloped acres of land once again eligible for federal wilderness protection.

BBC News reported that the agency will replace the 2003 policy adopted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Salazar said. That policy "” derided by some as the "No More Wilderness" policy "” stated that new areas could not be recommended for wilderness protection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and opened millions of acres in the Rocky Mountain region to potential commercial development.

Salazar says, "That policy frankly never should have happened and was wrong in the first place."

Under the new policy the US Bureau of Land Management will have the authority to designate certain public land as "wild lands" and recommend they be roped them off from future commercial development.

Salazar said the agency will review some 220 million acres of BLM land that's not currently under wilderness protection to see which should be given a new "Wild Lands" designation "” a new step for land awaiting a wilderness decision.

"Congress would decide whether those lands should be designated permanent wilderness areas," Salazar said.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said it hasn't been decided how many acres are expected be designated as "Wild Lands" and whether those acres will be off-limits to motorized recreation or commercial development while under congressional review. It's also unclear whether there will be a time limit on how long acres can be managed as "Wild Lands" before a decision is made on their future.

The BLM has six months to submit a plan for those new wilderness evaluations.

Environmental groups praised the reversal, though there has been grumbling that it took the Obama administration nearly two years to overturn the Bush-era policy.


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