No land grab
The reaction in Utah to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's rather low-key adjustment to a Bush-era "no more wilderness" policy for public lands has been, while not surprising, still a tad extreme.
Salazar announced that a seven-year-old agreement between former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and former Interior Secretary Gale Norton would be treated going forward for what it was: an illegal usurpation of federal authority to protect public land.
Salazar's order only returns to the Bureau of Land Management its rightful authority to declare qualifying lands as wilderness study areas and preserve it until Congress can decide whether it should be protected as wilderness.
Late last month, Iron County commissioners added their strident voices to the loud protestations that came almost immediately from Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who described the order in such terms as "a federal land grab." Gov. Gary Herbert chimed in during his State of the State address, saying Utah won't be run over roughshod by the federal government.
The commissioners want the county planning commission to amend the county's general plan to include their opposition to any new federal policies that restrict development of resources, including oil and gas drilling and all-terrain-vehicle use. The amendment is probably unnecessary, given the county's history of opposition to wildland designation. And it is mostly useless, since the land in question is, and always has been, owned by the American people, not Iron County or the State of Utah.
Still, Salazar has repeatedly promised to discuss any new wildland protections with local officials and the state. That doesn't mean, though, that he is willing to defer to the locals, but that regional BLM directors will seek county input before making decisions.
The BLM region including Iron and Beaver counties is undergoing a revision of its management plan. The plans approved for other regions in Utah during the administration of George W. Bush designated thousands of miles of ATV trails and open areas where the vehicles could be driven with little or no restrictions and millions of acres for drilling.
That kind of unfettered use threatens the fragile desert and forest lands throughout the Beehive State. The BLM has a responsibility to manage public lands for multiple uses, where appropriate, and to protect those lands for future generations. Salazar's order merely makes the agency's responsibility to protect as important as its duty to manage.