Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a secretarial order Dec. 23 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.
“Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf,” Salazar said in a statement.
BLM Director Bob Abbey said the new “policy affirms the BLM’s authorities under the law — and our responsibility to the American people — to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee as part of our multiple use mission.”
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has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003 when wilderness management guidance in BLM’s handbook was revoked as part of what Interior described as “a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other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.”
Concerns from congressional delegationAlaska’s congressman, Republican Don Young, expressed outrage at Interior’s actions in a Dec. 23 statement, calling it “yet another example of overreaching by the Federal Government and of the Administration detouring around Congress to get what they want.”
He called the action “disgraceful,” and said that as a member of the incoming Republican majority in the House, and the senior Republican on the Committee on Natural Resources in the present Congress, he would do everything in his power “to stop this overreaching by the Administration.”
“The new designation raises concerns about whether the Interior Department is trying to do an end run around Congress, which has sole authority to designate new wilderness areas,” said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “Further wilderness in Alaska without congressional approval is prohibited under the terms of ANILCA and Sen. Murkowski expects the federal government to live up to its end of that agreement.”
In background on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Dillon said in an e-mail to Petroleum News that the promise written into the law is that there would be “no more” presidential wilderness designations in Alaska of more than 5,000 acres, including use of the Antiquities Act, without express approval of Congress. ANILCA even prohibits study of lands for possible wilderness designation unless authorized by Congress.
State already concernedAlaska Gov. Sean Parnell said Dec. 29: “The ‘wild land’ designation for multiple-use Bureau of Land Management land is an undisguised end-run on ANILCA’s ‘no more’ provisions, an effort to create a de facto wilderness without Congressional oversight. It ignores ANILCA’s hard-fought provisions that protect both access for traditional activities and resources that are the bedrock of Alaska’s economy. We intend to bring our concerns to the Interior Department and the Congress and will also look to see what legal remedies may be available.”
Parnell had written to Salazar in November, objecting to “how certain agencies within the Department of the Interior are interpreting the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.”
He told Salazar that ANILCA, signed into law by President Carter in 1980, achieved a balance of interests, with “more than 100 million acres of federal land in Alaska” designated as new or expanded conservation system units, while also seeking to protect the state’s “fledgling economy and infrastructure” and “lending finality to the issue of the State’s conservation designations.”
The governor said BLM “appears to be weighing whether to add wilderness reviews” to its resource management plans in Alaska, and noted that since the passage of ANILCA, nearly all secretaries of the Interior have asked for concurrence from Alaska’s governor before conducting wilderness reviews on BLM lands in Alaska.”lands in Alaska.”
NPR-ABLM Director Bob Abbey told a Resource Development Council for Alaska audience in early December that lands within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska “will be assessed (and) … lands with wilderness character will be identified,” as part of the new planning effort under way for NPR-A.
When Abbey was asked at his RCA talk why, with the ANILCA compromise in place, BLM was thinking of designating lands in NPR-A as wilderness, he said he was “well aware of differences of opinion relative to what the law requires.”
Information provided by Interior related to the new wild lands policy said there has never been a statewide wilderness inventory in Alaska. The department said ANILCA “specifically recognizes the Secretary may ‘identify areas in Alaska which he determines are suitable as wilderness,’” and may make recommendations to Congress for designation of those lands as wilderness.
“Mindful of the balance struck in ANILCA, the Order permits Wild Lands to be designated in Alaska only through the BLM’s comprehensive land use planning processes, which proves for robust public comment and involvement,” Interior said.
BLM “must inventory the lands in NPR-A and may designate Wild Lands in NPR-A as part of its integrated activity planning for the area,” the department said, but also said it “will continue to conduct an expeditious program of competitive oil and gas leasing in the Reserve.”
Interior said the new order provides a mechanism for the secretary of Interior “to accept the invitation extended by Congress in section 1320 of ANILCA to ‘identify areas in Alaska which he determines are suitable as wilderness and … from time to time, make recommendations to the Congress for inclusion of any such areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System, pursuant to the provisions of the Wilderness Act.’”
Designation can be modifiedInterior said a wild lands designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, 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.
The secretarial order states that BLM will maintain a current inventory of land under its jurisdiction and identify lands that are not designated wilderness or wilderness study areas but have wilderness characteristics.
That information will be shared with the public and integrated into BLM’s land management decisions.
In the order BLM is directed to develop policy guidance within 60 days of the order, defining and clarifying how public lands with wilderness characteristics will be inventoried, described and managed.
BLM is directed to maintain a national wilderness database accessible to the public and updated annually, describing all public lands identified by BLM has having wilderness characteristics and how those lands are being managed.
And BLM is to ensure that project-level decisions and land-use planning efforts take wilderness characteristics into consideration and “include appropriate measures to protect the area’s wilderness characteristics” where those lands have been identified as wild lands.
Where there are lands not previously inventoried as wild lands, but where “BLM determines that the land appears to have wilderness characteristics … BLM shall preserve its discretion to protect wildness characteristics” in land-use planning, unless BLM determines, based on a National Environmental Protection Act analysis, that a project which impairs wilderness characteristics is “appropriate and consistent with requirements of applicable law and other resource considerations consistent with this Order or necessary for the exercise of valid existing rights.”