Sportsmen hail wilderness policy change

Seven years ago, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton used an unprecedented interpretation of federal law (dubbed the "no more wilderness" policy) to remove federal protections from 500,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in Colorado, and millions more across the West, making them vulnerable to activities such as mining, drilling and off-highway vehicle overuse and abuse. These public lands are vital winter range for mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and other species.

Some BLM staff members stated publicly at the time that the administration had a single-minded focus on energy that trumped BLM's authority to manage federal land for multiple uses. One BLM wildlife biologist, who quit his job in 2006 to work for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), said he and other wildlife specialists were being required to spend almost all of their time on energy development.

The BLM — which oversees some of the finest open range, desert canyons, and high-alpine valleys in the world — was told early on by the previous administration to make drilling for oil and gas its top priority. A demoralized staff followed through, but "many described their jobs the way a cowboy talks about having to shoot his horse."

Recently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reversed Norton's flawed policy. Sportsmen's groups support Salazar's action because it will help protect dwindling big game and other wildlife habitat that's being decimated by oil and gas drilling, and OHV overuse, on public lands across the West.