Under pressure from Congress, the Obama administration is backing away from a plan to make millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West eligible for federal wilderness protection.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a memo Wednesday that his agency will not designate any of those public lands as "wild lands." Instead Salazar said officials will work with members of Congress to develop recommendations for managing millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West.
"The protection of America's wilderness for hunting, fishing and backcountry recreation should be a unifying issue that mobilizes us to a common purpose," Salazar said. "We will focus our effort on building consensus around locally supported initiatives."
Salazar's decision reverses an order issued in December to restore eligibility for wilderness protection to millions of acres of public lands. That policy overturned a Bush-era approach that opened some Western lands to commercial development.
A budget deal approved by Congress prevented the Interior Department from spending money to implement the wilderness policy. GOP lawmakers complained that the plan would circumvent Congress' authority and could be used to declare a vast swath of public land off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling.
Republican governors in Utah, Alaska and Wyoming, filed suit to block the plan, saying it would hurt their state's economies by making federal lands unavailable for mineral production and other uses.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hailed Salazar's reversal of what he called a "misguided" policy that would have harmed Utah's economy.
"Arbitrarily restricting citizens' use of our public lands and obstructing the development of domestic energy on those lands is the wrong thing to do, especially during an economic recession and without any input from Congress or local officials," Hatch said.
Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/politics/2...#ixzz1OANEsWbL