WASHINGTON— In an 11th hour move one day after Congress adjourned for the year, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials announced a new policy allowing the BLM to designate public lands as de facto wilderness without the approval of states or Congress. The new policy, which overturns the Utah Wilderness Settlement Agreement, will allow the BLM to do an end-run around Congress by designating public lands as “Wild Lands” areas. These new areas would be subject to similar regulations and restrictions as that of wilderness areas.
“Secretary Salazar’s decision to change the existing policy is a blatant attempt to usurp Congress’ role over public land management. The Constitution gives exclusive control of the public lands to Congress, and the only authority that the Executive branch agencies exercise over the federal lands is that which is delegated by Congress,” said Western Caucus Chairman Rob Bishop. “Make no mistake about it, this decision will seriously hinder domestic energy development and further contributes to the uncertainty and economic distress that continues to prevent the creation of new jobs in a region that has unduly suffered from this Administration’s radical policies. This is little more than an early Christmas present to the far left extremists who oppose the multiple use of our nation’s public lands.”
Today’s announcement directly contradicts previous assurances Secretary Salazar gave to Congress that the Utah Wilderness Settlement Agreement is consistent with federal law, thus validating that agencies do not have the authority to create de facto wilderness.
“It was only yesterday that President Obama spoke about the importance of cooperation. Yet today his administration has turned around and deliberately slapped western communities in the face. It has become commonplace that this Administration attempts to arbitrarily regulate that which they cannot successfully legislate. Unfortunately, this is the kind of doublespeak we have come to expect from this administration,” Bishop added.
“In order to work cooperatively, we need to trust one another. The announcement today calls into question whether Secretary Salazar’s word can be trusted,” Bishop concluded. “I am concerned that today’s decision puts the prospects of future congressional designation of wilderness at serious risk.”