The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 gave the Bureau of Land Management authority to inventory its lands for wilderness characteristics and protect those values by designating wilderness study areas. For more than 20 years, the BLM used this authority to protect pristine western wildlands from threats such as destructive oil and gas development and off-road vehicle abuse. Administrative designations are important to preserve the wilderness qualities of these lands until Congress permanently designates them as Wilderness. In 2003, the Bush administration dismantled BLM’s policy of inventorying and protecting wilderness-quality lands, leaving millions of acres at risk.
This letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from 55 law professors outlines BLM’s statutory obligation to inventory and protect lands with wilderness characteristics. The professors argue that BLM not only has the authority to designate wilderness study areas, but is required to do so to fulfill its multiple use mandate.