Utah Wilderness Agreement Affects all 50 States
Matters News Service
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the state of Utah have worked
out an agreement that only Congress can designate wilderness areas
opening the door for similar actions by the rest of the 49 states.
The agreement lifted the "iron curtain" of restrictions
from 9 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in Utah that
had prevented motor vehicle use and any "impairment" to
wilderness values there.
BLM Deputy Director Jim Hughes said the land would no longer be treated
as formal wilderness under the illegal rules of the Clinton administration.
"The [Clinton] process was tilted too much toward wilderness
values. It appeared to many that it administratively created WSAs."
Under the new rules, land-use plans "will not designate any
new WSAs nor manage any additional lands under the
BLM will evaluate the lands under their jurisdiction to determine
if they are suited to multiple uses such as mining, development, or
off-road vehicle use or if some areas would benefit from special protections
to mitigate impacts on wilderness characteristics.
BLM lifts some wilderness protection - Agency enforcing Utah settlement
in all 50 states
Deseret Morning News
WASHINGTON Enforcing a Utah court settlement nationwide, the Bureau
of Land Management halted Monday treating any land as if it were formal
wilderness unless Congress has actually given it that status or
made it a formal wilderness study area.
That move was feared, but expected, for months by environmental groups.
They contend that millions more wild acres in Utah and the West need
special BLM safeguards to prevent development and allow future wilderness
But BLM Deputy Director Jim Hughes who issued the order told the
Deseret Morning News that new rules follow the law and end what had
been illegal rules by the Clinton administration that gave unfair
emphasis to protecting wilderness values in the land-planning process.
"The process was tilted too much toward wilderness values. It
appeared to many that it administratively created WSAs (wilderness
study areas)," he said. "Now we have a level playing field
for all of the multiple land use values that we consider."
Environmental groups, such as the Coalition for America's Wilderness,
said Thursday evening they were studying the new BLM orders before
The BLM agreed to take such action last April to settle a lawsuit
by Utah challenging the Clinton rules. The new rules issued Monday
affect not just Utah but the nation.
That is one reason environmental groups dislike Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt
who instigated the lawsuit and oppose his nomination to head the
Environmental Protection Agency. The new orders come just before the
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to vote
on Leavitt's nomination Wednesday.
Utah has 3.2 million acres of formal WSA's created by Congress on
BLM land. However, environmental groups have proposed a total of 9
million acres as Utah wilderness. The BLM, under Clinton rules, started
banning motor vehicles and any "impairment" to wilderness
Utah, the Utah Association of Counties and the School and Institutional
Trust Lands Administration had filed a lawsuit arguing the BLM overstepped
its authority, and Bush administration lawyers at the BLM agreed in
The BLM ordered Monday that land-use plans completed after April 14
"will not designate any new WSAs nor manage any additional lands
under the . . . non-impairment standard."
However, it said the BLM "may continue to inventory public lands
for resources or other values, including wilderness characteristics,
as a part of managing the public lands and land-use planning."
Also, environmental groups or any other interests may petition
for changes in current land-use plans with new information, such as
their own land inventories. However, existing plans remain in effect
until the review process concludes.
"BLM will not manage those lands (being reviewed) . . . as if
they are or may become congressionally designated wilderness areas,
but through the planning process BLM may manage them using special
protections to protect wilderness characteristics," the order
Hughes said the rules allow a wide spectrum of possible use decisions.
"First, other multiple uses could be found to outweigh wilderness
characteristics," and plans would then allow such things as development,
mining or off-road vehicle use, he said.
"Second, it might emphasize the other uses but still give special
protections to mitigate the impacts on wilderness characteristics.
Third, it might emphasize wilderness over the other values. . . .
It's not limited to those three possibilities. Any mixture along that
spectrum is possible."
Hughes added that the BLM is currently developing 65 land use plans
at various BLM areas nationally and expects to begin another 15 this
year. He said others may come as affected groups seek them and bring
in new information.