Writing about the environment does make one think about the costs and benefits of recycling. But let it be noted that, despite the temptation, this blog did not recycle the December headline that read “Bush Policy on Wilderness Is Reversed.” All of the words in that headline above my colleague’s article in December could have been reused, in their original order — save one.
Where the original headline said “Bush,” this one would have said “Obama.”
A little more than five months after scuttling the Bush administration’s pledge not to set aside more federal land as potential wilderness, and six weeks after Congress passed a measure forbidding him to carry out the pledge, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a memo on Wednesday scuttling his own decision.
The memo said that Interior officials would have discussions with congresspeople, local politicians and federal land managers about lands with wilderness potential and would keep inventories of various parcels of lands and how they might be used, but would follow Congress’s command and not try to declare any of its holdings as “wild lands.”
On one level, of course, Mr. Salazar was simply declaring that he would follow the law, as noted by Doc Hastings, the Washington Republican who serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“It’s welcome news that the Interior Department will follow the law,” a prepared statement issued in Representative Hastings’s name said. It went on, “Attempts to prohibit forms of public access, block job-creating activities and manage land as wilderness, even though they haven’t been designated as such by Congress, will be met with a strong reaction by this committee.”
But on another level, he seemed to be renouncing his proactive wilderness policy for good, not just until the end of the year, when the Congressional prohibition ends.
Despite one or two compromises between environmentalists and industry, the wilderness/wild lands issue has usually been one with sharp demarcations. And it was so on Wednesday, as wilderness advocates voiced sharp disappointment with Secretary Salazar’s decision.
Heidi McIntosh, a lawyer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in an e-mail: “Months ago, when Secretary Salazar announced the wild lands policy, he said that wilderness was a high priority for the B.L.M [Bureau of Land Management]. And regardless of the funding situation, these places, which define so much of the American experience, deserve much better treatment from this administration. This is not the kind of change we were hoping for.”
She said that her group expected the department to become proactive again when the Congressional prohibitions lifted.
Mr. Salazar’s memo did nod to the department’s legal obligation to inventory and categorize some of the department’s 245 million acres according to its potential use, an obligation that 44 House members reminded him of in a letter over the weekend.
Members of the congressional delegation in Utah, among the country’s fiercest opponents of wilderness policy, issued a series of statements praising Mr. Salazar’s decision. (Utah had already sued to overturn the policy.)
The state’s junior senator, Mike Lee, said, “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.”