New wilderness regs are no land grab


Late last year the Obama administration overturned a 2003 Bush administration policy barring the Bureau of Land Management from temporarily protecting wilderness quality of land under its jurisdiction until Congress considered wilderness designation.

The Bush policy stemmed from a deal cut by then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the state of Utah to settle a lawsuit. In addition to removing federal protection for roughly 2.6 million acres of wilderness-quality land in Utah, Norton renounced long standing bureau authority to recommend and protect new areas for wilderness consideration.

The Obama administration decision to return bureau authority to its pre-2003 status quo - and to equal footing with other federal land management agencies - is drawing fire from some Western Republicans in Congress.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the decision a "land grab" that "threatens to devastate our Western way of life." This type of Western Republican rant against wilderness has become all too predictable in recent years.

The American Land Rights Association and the Blue Ribbon Coalition vehemently oppose preserving wilderness-quality land and equate wilderness protection with "locking up" land. From their perspective, "public access" means access for motorized off-road recreation, mining and timber harvesting.

For some lawmakers the notion of recreating on public land without a motorized vehicle is mistakenly viewed as something only liberal elites or "granola heads" want to do.

The truth is human-powered outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking, canoeing and backcountry skiing are popular among Americans of all political stripes - 137 million participants - and contribute $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy.