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BRC Applauds Congressional Oversight of BLM's Wilderness Inventory Handbook

August 06, 2012 8:03 PM
BRC Applauds Congressional Oversight of BLM's Wilderness Inventory Handbook
BRC Applauds Congressional Oversight of BLM's Wilderness Inventory Handbook

POCATELLO, ID (August 6, 2012)--The BlueRibbon Coalition today expressed appreciation for the initiative of several key members of Congress, who are taking action in opposition to the Department of the Interior's (DOI) efforts to conduct a never-ending Wilderness inventory process.

Senate Western Caucus Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), joined Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-01) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in questioning Bureau of Land Management guidance manuals that continue the controversial Wild Lands policy killed by Congress in April 2011. The manuals include language identical to Secretarial order 3310 and its supporting documents, known as the DOI's Wild Lands memo, mandating  BLM employees engage in a ongoing inventory for lands with wilderness characteristics.

In the letter to Secretary Salazar, Caucus members wrote; "The Department's recent actions greatly undermine both your commitment to working with us, your duty to follow both the letter and spirit of the Congressional mandate to withhold funding for the Wildlands policy, and the Obama Administration's commitment towards being the 'most transparent' in history.  We urge you to withdraw BLM Manuals 6310 and 6320 immediately, and create a public process for crafting these manuals that are so vital to the management of western public lands,"

In addition to Barrasso, Hatch, and Bishop, the letter was signed by Senators Mike Crapo, Mike Enzi, Dean Heller, Jon Kyl, Mike Lee, Lisa Murkowski, Jim Risch and Representatives Mark Amodei, Jason Chaffetz, Jeff Denham, Jeff Flake, Paul Gosar, Raul Labrador, Cynthia Lummis, Tom McClintock and Steve Pearce.

The letter to Secretary Salazar is here.
A background paper distributed by the Western Caucus is
here.
A press release from the Senate Western Caucus is
here. 

Greg Mumm, BRC's Executive Director said the congressional oversight is appreciated by many in the west who have been fighting the agency's attempt to add additional Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) each time a new management plan is created. "The effort to require the BLM to conduct an endless wilderness inventory has been the single most controversial policy initiative in the agency's history. This ill-conceived wilderness review process has been nothing but a waste of valuable resources and budgets. We very much appreciate the efforts of the Western Caucus."

While applauding the action, BRC's Public Lands Policy Director, Brian Hawthorne, could not help but note that the planning regulations, promulgated at the end of the Clinton Administration, were continued by the Bush Administration. "This policy began under Secretary Bruce Babbitt in 1998. It was incorporated into official BLM planning regulations in 2002 and has continued largely under the radar until Secretary Salazar elevated the effort to a 'Secretarial Order.' In every respect, we must thank Secretary Salazar's over-reach for bringing this policy to the attention of Congress and the public."

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The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. 1-800-BlueRib -
www.sharetrails.org

Some Important History
In 1996, then Secretary Bruce Babbitt initiated a re-inventory of BLM lands in Utah and attempted to nearly double the amount of WSAs in the state. That process was challenged in federal court by the State of Utah and several Utah Counties. Years later, the BLM, under Interior Secretary Gale Norton, agreed that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the law that created the BLM, actually precluded the agency from formally establishing WSAs outside of the process mandated in Section 603. The Utah lawsuit was suspended upon the signing of a settlement agreement, sometimes referred to "Norton-Leavitt Settlement." BLM then suspended its effort to designate new WSAs in Utah.

FLPMA Section 603 instructs the BLM to conduct a Wilderness inventory and to make formal recommendations on which, if any, of its lands should be included in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Those lands were to be formally designated Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) and only Congress could remove that designation. Congress was very specific that the inventory should take place one time and one time only. After the recommendations were made, BLM was to manage the WSAs allowing existing uses, but not to the extent that those uses prevent Congress from designating the lands Wilderness.

What the BLM did then was to simply change the name of the new WSAs and continued on its merry way. Under guidance issued for its Land Use Planning process, it simply substituted Wilderness Study Area with "Lands with Wilderness Characteristics." The existing guidance (prior to the Salazar Order) directs BLM land managers to continue to conduct Wilderness inventories, but does so through the land use planning process, and although it uses the term LWC, it does not formally establish a "designation." Secretary Salazar modified these directives and gave these new LWC lands the official designation of "Wildlands."

BLM Resource Management Plans (RMP) finalized in Utah, Arizona and other states have incorporated the Wilderness inventory process into new RMPs. Management of the LWC lands in the new RMP focuses on protecting Wilderness character, which has resulted in the highly ironic situation where LWC lands are actually managed much more restrictively than the original WSAs.

Salazar's order doubles down on the Bush Administration planning guidance, elevating it to a Secretarial Order, and mandating that Wilderness inventory be ongoing. The draft Manual dumbs down the definition of Wilderness so the maximum acreage will qualify as having "wilderness characteristics." The Order mandates Wilderness analysis occur during any site-specific NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process that takes place within LWC lands. It also appears to mandate a Wilderness review for lands that may be identified as potential LWC lands in a future RMP. Finally, the Order mandates a Wilderness review and analysis on ANY project if a Wilderness activist group, or a BLM staff member, identifies Wilderness as a "significant issue" in the NEPA process.

May 31, 2016 3:24 PM
Some of the many historic OHV routes in the Pine Nut Mountains

BOISE, ID (May 31, 2016) -- Sharetrails.org/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC), a national trail-based recreation group, today slammed recent decisions that would severely restrict off-highway vehicle (OHV) events and trail improvements in many areas in eastern California and Nevada.  The changes, in the name of sage grouse management, were demanded by a handful of preservationist special interest groups.

Read more...
November 23, 2015 3:16 PM
Associated Image

MISSOULA, MT (November 23, 2015) --Various organizations, led by the Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club, have filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Forest Service planning efforts on the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle National Forests.  The complaint, filed on November 12, 2015, in federal court for the U.S.

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November 23, 2015 10:38 AM

POCATELLO, ID (November 23, 2015) – Early last week, the BlueRibbon Coalition/Sharetrails.org joined with other recreation groups in a letter sent to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in support of a balanced approach to managing public lands as part of the Moab Master Leasing Plan.

The letter addressed to BLM serves as formal comments from OHV stakeholders.  It also represents an effort between motorized and non-motorized recreation groups working together for the protection of outdoor recreation resources on public lands.

Read more...
[Press Room Archive]