Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a secretarial order today directing the Bureau of Land Management to designate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “wild lands” and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.
In a statement Interior said input from the public and from local communities would be accepted on the designation through BLM’s existing land management planning process.
BLM has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003 when wilderness management guidance in BLM’s handbook was revoked as part of what Interior described as “a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other parties.”
A “wild lands” designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, Interior said, distinguishing wild lands from “wilderness areas” which are designated by Congress and can only be modified by legislation, and “wilderness study areas,” which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as wilderness areas or modify their management.
Interior said the order applies to BLM public lands in Alaska, where there has never been a statewide wilderness inventory.
Interior said that mindful of the balance struck under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, wild lands will be designated in Alaska “only through the BLM’s comprehensive land use planning processes, which provides for robust public comment and involvement.”
Interior said the order will apply to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and BLM may designate wild lands in NPR-A as part of its integrated activity planning for the area, but “will continue to conduct an expeditious program of competitive oil and gas leasing in the Reserve.”
BLM will issue the new policy within 60 days.
See more in the Jan. 2 edition of Petroleum News, available online to subscribers on Thurs., Dec. 30 by 11 a.m.