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Governor Denounces Decision on Alaska ‘Wild Lands’


January 31, 2011
Monday PM

(SitNews) - Alaska Governor Sean Parnell expressed grave concerns Thursday about a recent decision in December by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to evaluate 87 million acres of federal land in Alaska as potential “wild lands.” That designation would effectively allow the federal government to create more wilderness in Alaska without congressional oversight.

Secretarial Order 3310 issued December 23, 2010 by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), based on the input of the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process, to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "Wild Lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

"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," said Salazar. "This policy ensures that the lands of the American public are protected for current and future generations to come."

In comments submitted recently to the Department of the Interior, Governor Parnell said Interior’s wild lands designation will diminish access to federal lands and cost jobs.

“Putting such a sweeping initiative in place overnight, with no congressional direction and no advance consultation with affected states or the public, is unfathomable,” Governor Parnell said. He noted that Alaska lands have been repeatedly studied, with large areas placed off-limits to resource development.

“Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980, which studied public lands in Alaska and set aside 57 million acres as wilderness. Nearly every Interior secretary since ANILCA was passed has chosen not to conduct further discretionary wilderness inventories in Alaska, and has recognized the importance of a public process and discussion with state leaders. I will not allow such disregard for Alaska and its citizens to stand unchallenged.”

In addition to the flawed process, the governor noted specific concerns:

  • “By designating ‘Wild Lands,’ Order 3310 usurps congressional authority where Interior improperly acted as an administrative surrogate for congressional designations of wilderness;
  • “In Alaska, where most of BLM’s 86 million acres retain their wilderness values, the heavily weighted default protection of wilderness characteristics could easily render most BLM lands de facto wilderness areas, absent BLM’s multiple-use direction. This would have a devastating effect on Alaska’s people, economy, and land use and access. Thus, the order directly conflicts with the “no more” clauses in ANILCA and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA);
  • “The order is, for all practical purposes, an end-run around ANILCA, which I predict will lead to egregious social and economic consequences for Alaskans. Without the explicit provisions of ANILCA that apply to conservation system units, BLM Wild Lands will likely be managed more restrictively in Alaska than ANILCA-designated wilderness managed by the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, or Forest Service;
  •  “The order purports to seek ‘balance’ between responsible resource development and protection of wilderness characteristics; yet there is a strong presumption in favor of wilderness-style protection. For that reason, this order will have a severe chilling effect on future proposals designed to create jobs in resource development once an area is designated Wild Lands. This approach also contradicts BLM’s multiple-use mandate under FLPMA;
  • “BLM managers’ discretion to determine where and when ‘impairment’ of wilderness characteristics is ‘appropriate’ is subject to undue scrutiny and approval in Washington D.C., where decisions tend to be political and knowledge of local conditions, issues, and needs is diluted, at best; and
  • “BLM has no authority whatsoever to apply this policy to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska because it is not subject to FLPMA.”

The U. S. Bureau of Lan Management (BLM), which manages more land than any other federal agency, has not had any comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003, when the wilderness management guidance in the agency's handbook was revoked as part of a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other parties.

"The new Wild Lands policy affirms the BLM's authorities under the law - and our responsibility to the American people - to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee as part of our multiple use mission," said BLM Director Bob Abbey.

Abbey said that Secretarial Order 3310 fills an important land management need for the public and the agency. "Wild Lands," which will be designated through a public process, will be managed to protect wilderness characteristics unless or until such time as a new public planning process modifies the designation. 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.

Secretarial Order 3310 also directs the BLM to maintain a current inventory of public lands with wilderness characteristics, which will contribute to the agency’s ability to make balanced, informed land management decisions, consistent with its multiple-use mission.

"Simple principles guide this common-sense policy," said Salazar. "First: the protection of wild lands is important to the American people and should therefore be a high priority in BLM's management policies. Second: the public should have a say in designating certain public lands as 'Wild Lands' and expanding those areas or modifying their management over time. And third: we should know more about which American lands remain wild, so we can make wise choices, informed by science, for our children, grandchildren and future generations."

"We are charting a new course for balanced land management which allows the BLM to take into account all of the resources for which it is responsible through a transparent, public land use planning process," said Abbey.

The Secretarial Order does not change the management of existing Wilderness Study Areas pending before Congress or congressionally designated units of the National Wilderness Preservation System. BLM may also still develop recommendations, with public involvement, regarding possible Congressional designation of lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The BLM manages 245 million acres in the United States, including iconic American landscapes like Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, the Headwaters Forest Reserve's ancient redwood forest in California, and the Iditarod National Historic Trail in Alaska. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 11 western states and Alaska. The bureau also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes its mission by managing activities such as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.


Sources of News:

Office of the Governor

United States Bureau of Land Management


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Ketchikan, Alaska