Conservation groups mixed on Salazar memo dialing back Wild Lands policy

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

National and state conservation and sportsmen’s group had mixed reactions to Wednesday’s memo from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dialing back the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Lands policy in response to the ongoing budget battle in Congress.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Salazar in a memo on Wednesday directed Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes to “develop recommendations regarding the management of BLM lands with wilderness characteristics,” which is a far cry from the Wild Lands Order he issued last December. The clarification resulted from Congress blocking the BLM spending money to implement the order in the 2011 budget.

“The time has come to create certainty and provide clear and lasting direction for the future management of backcountry BLM lands,” Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President and CEO Whit Fosburgh said in a release.

“These important backcountry areas demand responsible management, especially given the growing interest in developing public-lands energy resources. This announcement does not resolve the issue, however, and sportsmen look forward to working with Secretary Salazar and Deputy Secretary Hayes to implement policy providing clear and specific direction for the conservation of backcountry BLM lands where the public hunts, fishes and enjoys the great outdoors.”

Republicans have been sharply critical of the policy, calling it a massive federal land grab that will take millions of acres of public land out of the loop for potential domestic energy production.

The Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance (BMSA), which recently released a report on the impacts of natural gas drilling in Northwest Colorado, applauded Salazar’s actions on Wednesday.

“Conservation is about passing our hunting and angling traditions to future generations, and that’s exactly what Secretary Salazar has set out to accomplish through the Department of Interior’s Wild Lands guidance,” said BMSA’s Gaspar Perricone. “This important policy should protect wildlife, habitat and the opportunity of sportsmen and women to hunt and fish on pristine public lands throughout the West.”

Colorado conservation groups pointed out the economic importance of protecting BLM lands with wilderness characteristics.

“The Wild Lands policy is popular with sportsmen, other wildlife and outdoor recreationists because it keeps our access to public lands in balance with other uses,” said Suzanne O’Neill of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “Americans want places to recreate for themselves and for the next generation. Even now, some important wildlife habitat is at a tipping point due to a combination of factors including development.”

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