Congressman Bishop, and Senators Hatch and Lee Respond to Salazor’s Decision to Reverse Wild Lands Policy

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee today applauded Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s reversal on his ‘wild lands’ policy. All of the legislators were concerned that the policy could have a negative impact on Utah’s economy, and Congressman Bishop worked to pass legislation that blocked appropriations to fund Saalzar’s previous proposal. The following are releases from each of the legislators:

Congressman Bob Bishop

The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) today announced that pursuant to the Continuing Resolution (CR) recently passed to fund the government through the summer, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will cease plans to unilaterally designate public lands as “Wild Lands.”  In advance of today’s announcement, DOI Secretary Ken Salazar spoke with House Natural Resources National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) to discuss his intentions and inform him about the DOI’s plans to comply with the policies included in the CR.

“I appreciate Secretary Salazar taking time to inform me of today’s announcement and am pleased that the DOI recognizes that only Congress has the statutory authority to designate wilderness or such concepts as wild lands,” said Congressman Bishop.  “This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

In the memo Secretary Salazar also stated that Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes will work with the BLM and interested parties to develop recommendations regarding the management of lands with wilderness characteristics.В  Additionally, Salazar is directing Deputy Secretary Hayes to solicit input from Members of Congress, state and local officials and federal land managers to identify possible new wilderness areas.В  These findings will be presented to Congress in a report.

“While I am pleased to hear that the DOI intends to uphold the requirements of the Wilderness Act and work with Congress to designate new wilderness areas, I am interested in learning more about their plans to manage lands with so-called ‘wilderness characteristics’,” Bishop added.  “I look forward to working with Secretary Salazar, Deputy Secretary Hayes and Director Abbey to ensure that our public lands are managed in such a way that the livelihoods of public lands users and the environment are protected and preserved for generations to come.”

In an effort to prevent millions of acres of land from being unilaterally designated as wild lands, Bishop, along with many western Members of Congress, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID), have remained vigilant in their efforts to prevent the DOI from proceeding with Secretarial Order #3310.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for many communities in the West as well as all those whose livelihoods depend upon access to our nation’s public lands.  I am cautiously optimistic that the DOI intends to have a more cooperative relationship with Congress and that we can work toward more collaborative policies,” Bishop concluded.

Senator Orrin Hatch

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) today lauded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for listening to him and others about his misguided wilderness policy and finally agreeing to abandon his efforts to bypass Congress and designate any lands as “wild lands.”

Hatch, who has led in the effort to reverse the Department of Interior’s misguided Secretarial Order 3310, said he is pleased that his talks with Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey have been successful. Hatch met with Salazar in January and has had several conversations with the Department since outlining how this policy undermines Utah’s economy.

“In my talks with both Secretary Salazar and BLM Director Abbey, I have stressed just how disastrous the Obama administration’s sweeping new wilderness policy would be to our rural economies in Utah and other Western states,” Hatch said. “I am gratified that they appear to finally understand that arbitrarily restricting citizens’ use of our public lands and obstructing the development of domestic energy and other resources on those lands is the wrong thing to do, especially during an economic recession and without any input from Congress or local officials. I’m also thankful for the efforts of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, for the lawsuit they filed against the federal government over its wild lands policy and bringing more pressure to bear on the Administration.

“Since the majority of land in Utah is owned by the federal government, it is critically important to strike a balance between the needs of our local communities and the protection of public lands that truly do have wilderness characteristics rather than pandering to environmental extremists.  Today’s announcement is a positive step toward restoring that balance,” Hatch concluded.

Salazar’s decision to abandon the wild lands policy comes after Congress passed The Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, which includes provisions that prohibit the use of appropriated funds to implement or enforce Secretarial Order 3310. Hatch thanked Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) for his role in getting the order defunded.

Senator Mike Lee

Today, Senator Mike Lee applauded the decision by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to not designate any lands as “Wild Lands” in accordance with the 2011 Continuing Resolution. Senator Lee also indicated he stands ready to work with the Utah state legislature and other state and local officials to evaluate current wilderness study areas.

“Secretary Salazar has rightly recognized that Congress, and not the Department of the Interior, has the authority to designate wilderness areas; he has also recognized the importance of working with federal, state and local representatives in managing federal land,” said Senator Lee, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  “With nearly 70 percent of Utah lands under federal control, it is critical that we have a say early in the process to protect the rights of Utahns and all Americans to access and use federal lands.”

Last December, Secretary Salazar issued a controversial order directing the Bureau of Land Management to designate areas with wilderness characteristics as “wild lands,” a move that was widely seen as an end run around Congress’s authority to designate wilderness areas.  Within weeks, Senator Lee sent a letter to Secretary Salazar requesting all documents regarding the formation of the new policy, including meeting notes, electronic and hard-copy correspondence, and any maps that include Utah lands affected by the order.

Salazar’s failure to respond to the request forced Senator Lee to take other measures in order to encourage compliance.  He indicated he would put a “hold” on the nomination of Dan Ashe as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service until all documents pertaining to the formulation of the “wild lands” policy had been turned over.  After more than four months, the Secretary’s office is expected to comply with the document request this week.

Today’s news was welcomed by Senator Lee as an acknowledgment that the Interior Department cannot and should not act unilaterally to impose a highly restrictive land use policy.

“The ‘wild lands’ policy that was abandoned by the Secretary today would have harmed the Utah economy, prevented job growth, blocked domestic energy development, and resulted in less revenue for our state,” Lee added.  “I appreciate that the Secretary has shifted his position and we can now work together with state and local officials to determine the future designation of our current wilderness study areas.”

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