Western Republican lawmakers and governors object to Obama
administration plans to consider whether millions of acres of
federal land in the West should be protected as 'wild lands.'
Western Republican lawmakers and governors are up in arms over
the Obama administration's plan to consider whether millions of
acres of federal land in the West should be protected as "wild
Their outrage is setting the stage for a new round of the
"sagebrush rebellion" over land use in the West - a battle that
could have repercussions for Election 2012.
The Obama administration's plan would require federal agencies to
manage such land primarily to preserve its wilderness
characteristics - which could mean restrictions on commercial uses,
including oil and gas development as well as motorized recreation.
In essence, the new thrust reverses a 2003 Bush administration
policy opening up federal land to more extractive uses.
In congressional testimony this week, Rep. Denny Rehberg of
Montana called it a "war on the West."
Noting that royalties from mineral development help pay for
public schools, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said, "This order hinders
rural economic development and hurts key funding sources for Utah's
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter urged Congress to "take back its
authority" and block the new policy. (Under the Wilderness Act of
1964, only Congress can officially designate "wilderness" - areas
"where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where
man himself is a visitor who does not remain.")
The point of contention is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's order
in December that the Bureau of Land Management (which oversees some
245 million acres, most of it in the West) should regularly
inventory its lands, factoring in wild characteristics when making
The idea, according to the Interior Department, is to "restore
balance and clarity to the management of public lands by
establishing common-sense policy for the protection of backcountry
areas where Americans recreate, find solitude, and enjoy the wild."
"Wild lands" would be designated after gathering public input,
and unlike "wilderness" they could be given more (or less)
protection without an act of Congress.
Old West vs. new West
The balance between environmental preservation and the use of
natural resources - mining, logging, cattle grazing, oil and gas
drilling, water - has been part of western history for a century or
more, particularly since so much of the region is managed by federal
agencies such as the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management,
and the National Park Service. …