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Opposition to federal ‘Wild Lands’ policy grows

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — Western states governors have added their voices to the chorus of vocal critics of the new federal “Wild Lands” policy that gives administration officials the power to ban responsible off-highway riding on millions of acres of public land, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) reports. 

On Dec. 22, 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3310 creating a new land-use designation called Wild Lands that essentially allows officials in the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage public land as if it had received a “Wilderness” land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval. 

A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are illegal. The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by Congress in 1964, but anti-access advocates have been abusing the legislative process to ban responsible off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation on public land.

In December, the AMA and OHV enthusiasts won an important battle when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped his effort to pass a massive omnibus public lands bill that would have inappropriately designated millions of acres of public land as Wilderness. With the new “Wild Lands” policy, anti-access advocates are now seeking an end-run around Congress.

Federal lawmakers quickly called the Wild Lands policy a “land grab” and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority. Off-highway riders sporting “Stop the Land Grab” stickers produced by the AMA and distributed by the Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL) turned out in droves for a meeting of Utah’s Governor’s Council on Balanced Resources that featured BLM Director Bob Abbey trying to explain the new policy.

Ed Moreland, AMA senior vice president for government relations, sent a letter to Salazar asking him to explain whether the new Wild Lands land-use designation will block traditional routes of travel for off-highway riding. It can be viewed at http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Libraries/Rights_Documents_Federal/Salazar_WildLands_1-11-2011.sflb.ashx.

Governors who have come out against the Wild Lands policy include Wyoming’s Matthew Mead, Idaho’s C.L. “Butch” Otter and Utah’s Gary Herbert.

“This letter is to advise you that I firmly oppose Secretarial Order 3310, which was released just before the Christmas holiday and while many gubernatorial offices, like mine, were in a state of transition,” Mead wrote to Salazar on Jan. 17. “Though you will seek feedback from state BLM offices prior to issuing final agency guidance, the opportunity for public input on the policy itself was never afforded.”

Mead went on to say that the people of Wyoming “want and deserve” a say in land-management policies that affect them.

Otter, meanwhile, called on Salazar to immediately withdraw the order.

“Without any state or public input, the Interior Department has circumvented the sovereignty of states and the will of the public by shifting from the normal planning processes of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to one that places significant and sweeping authority in the hands of unelected federal bureaucrats,” Otter said in a letter to Salazar.

In asking Abbey to appear before the Governor’s Council on Balanced Resources, Utah’s Herbert complained: “There was no policy discussion with the state. There was no formal notice this was being considered. The federal government suddenly administratively locked up additional Utah lands without even consulting us, and we want an explanation.”

Herbert remained opposed to the Wild Lands policy following the Jan. 14 meeting.

Salazar’s order has far-reaching implications because the BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in western states. 

Under Salazar’s order, BLM officials will look at the land they manage and decide which land should be labeled “Lands With Wilderness Characteristics.” Once those decisions are made, the officials will go through a public land-use planning process before designating land as “Wild Lands.” 

To keep up with the latest on this issue, visit AmericanMotorcyclist.com