The Obama administration plans to repeal a Bush-era policy that prevented undeveloped acres of land from being recommended for federal wilderness protection.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that his agency will undo the “No More Wilderness” policy, which was enacted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2003.
Congress remains the only governmental body capable of designating new “Wilderness Areas,” but the order will allow U.S. Bureau of Land Management field members to protect areas with “wilderness characteristics,” MSNBC reported.
“Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike, and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf,” Salazar said in a statement.
The 2003 policy was adopted in an out-of-court deal between Norton and then-Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt to remove federal protections for 2.6 million acres in the Rocky Mountain region. The move allowed oil and gas drilling, mining, and other commercial development on land under consideration as wilderness areas.
“I am proud to sign a secretarial order that restores protections for the wild lands that the Bureau of Land Management oversees on behalf of the American people,” Salazar said Thursday in Denver, according to MSNBC.
The policy shift creates a new management category called “Wild Lands,” which will be determined through a public process.
“Because the ‘Wild Lands’ designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, it differs from ‘Wilderness Areas,’ which are designated by Congress and cannot be modified except by legislation, and ‘Wilderness Study Areas,’ which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as Wilderness Areas or modify their management,” Salazar explained.
Congress will still make the final call on whether areas of land receive permanent wilderness protection. The BLM has six months to submit new criteria for wilderness evaluations.