Our western wild lands were dealt a heavy blow recently when Congress passed a bill to fund the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year with a provision that prohibits the use of funds to implement the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Lands policy.
The Wild Lands policy was announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last December, and was intended to reverse the Bush administration’s policy of destroying wilderness-quality lands by opening them up to rampant oil and gas drilling and abusive off-road vehicle use.
Since the Wild Lands policy was announced, it has been the target of oil and gas companies, the mining industry, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, and members of Congress who would rather see every acre of our public lands drilled, dug up, or driven over than preserved, and on the other hand we have seen increasing support from western conservationists, sportsmen, the outdoor business community, and thoughtful public officials (note the support letters listed above) who recognize the importance of protecting the wilderness values on millions of acres of wild but unprotected landscapes. And as The Wilderness Society has consistently shown, there is room on the BLM’s 245 million acres for all of these multiple uses – including protection of wilderness-quality lands.
That’s why we were surprised and disappointed that the last-minute negotiations on the funding bill left the Wild Lands policy out in the cold. Perhaps most disappointing is that anti-wilderness members of Congress used the budget process to make policy decisions and further their own agendas – prohibiting implementation of the Wild Lands policy will not save the government any money.
Now we must look towards the 2012 budget, and ensure that Wild Lands don’t end up on the chopping block again.
The Wilderness Society is grateful to our members of Congress who have been ardent supporters of Wild Lands, and we hope they will continue the fight for our western landscapes that are beloved by hikers, hunters, birdwatchers, and many Americans who are tired of oil and gas companies locking up our public lands.
Places like Adobe Town, in Wyoming’s Red Desert, New Mexico’s desert grassland Otero Mesa, and the sandstone cliffs of Colorado’s South Shale Ridge, were all given a chance at protection thanks to Secretary Salazar’s Wild Lands policy. Now they, and so many other treasured landscapes, are once again at risk. We need your help to ensure this isn’t the end to western wild lands.