The Interior Department reversed a Bush-era policy on wilderness on Thursday, restoring the authority of its Bureau of Land Management to identify and recommend new areas for protection.
Since 2003, the department has excluded wilderness as a criterion it applies in managing federal lands for the public benefit.
“The new Wild Lands policy affirms the B.L.M.’s authorities under the law — and our responsibility to the American people — to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee,” the bureau’s director, Bob Abbey, said in a statement.
Environmentalists welcomed the decision but questioned why it had taken nearly two years for the Obama administration to reverse the policy. They also expressed worry that the new policy could prove weaker than the wilderness designation formulas in place before President George W. Bush took office in 2001.
“We are not quite where we were before,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel in the Denver office of the Wilderness Society.