January 25, 2011

Delegation Says Wild Lands Order Circumvents Public, Congress

Raises fears DOI actions will hurt local collaboration

Washington, DC - Members of Idaho's Congressional Delegation are alarmed by the recent decision of the U.S. Secretary of Interior to order a "new tier of public land protection" that may circumvent the public, stakeholders and Congress, and could damage collaborative land management. Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raúl Labrador wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today, asking him to further explain his Wild Lands directive, which was issued as an executive order.

"In a state like Idaho - where two-thirds of the land is owned by the federal government - we have unique insight into the impacts that overly-prescriptive, inflexible land management policies can have on people and communities, as well as local and state government," the Delegation members wrote. "That is why we believe that while increased levels of protection may be warranted for certain lands in certain circumstances, the people and parties that are most impacted must be at the center of the policy-making process."

The Idaho Delegation members said the order by Salazar calling on Bureau of Land Management employees to inventory public lands for "wilderness characteristics" could also place a "substantial burden" on agency workers and divert personnel and agency resources from current projects. They said the order could slow the permitting process for alternative energy projects, such as wind, solar and geothermal energy the nation needs, as well as planning for motorized recreation and grazing.

There are also fears the order will damage the relationship between the agency and those who use the public lands and count on a collaborative process for decision-making by a top-down order like the Wild Lands directive.

"The public land conflicts of the 20th century can only be a thing of the past if we address these matters inclusively and comprehensively," noted Crapo, Risch, Simpson and Labrador. "For these efforts to succeed, the stakeholders must be able to trust not only each other, but the federal agencies themselves. We are concerned that this policy could threaten that spirit because it conveys the message that no matter how hard and for how long these groups collaborated and worked together, the federal government is still going to find a way to do what it wants if its political objectives are contrary to the locally driven, collaborative solutions that have been forged. Not only will that undermine these parties' faith in government; it will drive them away from the stakeholder table and back into the court room. Lines will be redrawn in the sand, and progress will be squandered. We cannot afford for that to happen."

The Delegation said it wants to work with Salazar and others at the Department of Interior and the BLM on land management decisions. But the lack of transparency in a secretarial order implementing the policy, its effects on existing land planning and the potential for damage to the collaborative process demand further consultation with Congress and the public before the order is implemented further.