Editorial: A New Day for Wilderness


One of the sorrier blots on George W. Bush’s sorry environmental record was a midnight deal in 2003 between Gale Norton, then the secretary of the interior, and Michael Leavitt, then the governor of Utah, that withdrew 2.6 million acres of public land in Utah from consideration as protected wilderness.

As part of the deal, Ms. Norton also renounced her department’s longstanding authority to recommend vulnerable public lands of special beauty for permanent wilderness protection, thus sparing them from oil-and-gas drilling and other forms of commercial development.

The “no more wilderness” policy did more than threaten some of Utah’s most fragile wild lands. What it said, in effect, was that none of the lands administered by the department’s Bureau of Land Management, about 250 million acres, mostly in the Rocky Mountain West, would be considered for wilderness designation.

Last week, in a very welcome move, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reversed the Norton/Leavitt agreement on the Utah lands while reaffirming his department’s right to preserve other public lands in their natural state for future generations.