Lee Applauds Salazar's Decision to Abandon 'Wild Lands' Policy

June 1, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Senator Mike Lee applauded the decision by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to not designate any lands as “Wild Lands” in accordance with the 2011 Continuing Resolution. Senator Lee also indicated he stands ready to work with the Utah state legislature and other state and local officials to evaluate current wilderness study areas.
“Secretary Salazar has rightly recognized that Congress, and not the Department of the Interior, has the authority to designate wilderness areas; he has also recognized the importance of working with federal, state and local representatives in managing federal land,” said Senator Lee, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  “With nearly 70 percent of Utah lands under federal control, it is critical that we have a say early in the process to protect the rights of Utahns and all Americans to access and use federal lands.”
Last December, Secretary Salazar issued a controversial order directing the Bureau of Land Management to designate areas with wilderness characteristics as “wild lands,” a move that was widely seen as an end run around Congress’s authority to designate wilderness areas.  Within weeks, Senator Lee sent a letter to Secretary Salazar requesting all documents regarding the formation of the new policy, including meeting notes, electronic and hard-copy correspondence, and any maps that include Utah lands affected by the order.
Salazar’s failure to respond to the request forced Senator Lee to take other measures in order to encourage compliance.  He indicated he would put a “hold” on the nomination of Dan Ashe as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service until all documents pertaining to the formulation of the “wild lands” policy had been turned over.  After more than four months, the Secretary’s office is expected to comply with the document request this week.
Today’s news was welcomed by Senator Lee as an acknowledgment that the Interior Department cannot and should not act unilaterally to impose a highly restrictive land use policy.
“The ‘wild lands’ policy that was abandoned by the Secretary today would have harmed the Utah economy, prevented job growth, blocked domestic energy development, and resulted in less revenue for our state,” Lee added.  “I appreciate that the Secretary has shifted his position and we can now work together with state and local officials to determine the future designation of our current wilderness study areas.”