The House Natural Resources Committee held their first oversight hearing on the Wild Lands policy that was issued in late 2010. I flew out from my home in Boise, Idaho to see the hearing first hand and to try and restore some balance to the conversation.
Just before Christmas of 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, released a new policy for BLM lands. This Order, known as the Wild Lands policy, restored the BLM’s ability to consider wilderness values as one of the multiple uses of public lands, on par with mining, grazing and other extractive uses.
Few people realize that the BLM was stripped of their ability to protect wilderness characteristics after a back-door legal settlement occurred in Utah nearly a decade ago. Prior to this time, the BLM had the legal ability to consider wilderness as one of the multiple uses of public lands, but for the past decade the BLM has not had the discretion to identify and properly protect lands with wilderness characteristics. Secretary Salazar’s Order reinstated the BLM’s legal obligation to protect wilderness values. Nothing more, nothing less.
The policy attracted positive attention from the get-go, but soon several political figures, began criticizing the policy due to uncertainty about how it would truly be implemented. There were dooms-day scenarios being bantered about, with a few politicians predicting the end of multiple uses on public lands as we know it. Unfortunately, sanity was not to be found in that debate.
This was a very clear attempt to make something more out of this policy than it actually is. Today, the hearing demonstrated that some politicians are indeed more concerned with fanning the flames on this issue rather than sticking to the facts, or learning from others who support the policy. Here's my video reaction to that hearing:
People love public lands for the values they provide, especially for recreational opportunities like hiking, hunting, fishing, biking and other activities. While public lands serve multiple uses, we need our elected officials to stand up against those who choose to exploit and destroy what makes these places special. Those who have defended our lands should be thanked, including the 73 elected officials in Colorado, dozens more from seven western states, including those who sent a special letter from California. We've even seen letters of support from outfitters whose livelihoods depend on recreational activities on our public lands, the same way our fishermen depend on fishing in the Gulf.
I believe we deserve a better more honest debate, and I am confident my fellow Idahoans would agree.