By Island Park News
Island Park, Idaho - The tourism and recreation industries here could take a big hit under the new federal "Wild Lands" policy that gives administration officials the power to ban off-highway riding on millions of acres of public land.
The Idaho Congressional delegation and Western states governors have added their voices to the chorus of critics of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's December Secretarial Order 3310 creating a new land-use designation called "Wild Lands." It allows federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials to manage public land as if it had received a "Wilderness" land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval.
Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of motorized and even wheeled with no motor recreation are illegal.
In December, OHV enthusiasts won a battle when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped his effort to pass a massive omnibus public lands bill that would have inappropriately designated millions of acres of public land as Wilderness. With the new "Wild Lands" policy, anti-access advocates are now seeking an end-run around Congress.
Federal lawmakers quickly called the Wild Lands policy a "land grab" and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority.
Governors who have come out against the Wild Lands policy include Wyoming's Matthew Mead, Idaho's C.L. "Butch" Otter and Utah's Gary Herbert.
Otter called on Salazar to immediately withdraw the order.
"Without any state or public input, the Interior Department has circumvented the sovereignty of states and the will of the public by shifting from the normal planning processes of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to one that places significant and sweeping authority in the hands of unelected federal bureaucrats," Otter said in a letter to Salazar.
Salazar's order has far-reaching implications because the BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in western states.
Idaho's Fremont County is in BLM's Upper Snake Management Area, and recreation sites in this area include all or part of Big Southern Butte, Birch Creek Campground, Cress Creek Nature Trail, Hell's Half Acre, Henry's Fork- Snake River, Henry's Lake, Idaho Birding Trail, Kelly Island Campground, North Menan Butte South Fork Snake River, St. Anthony Sand Dunes - Egin Lakes, Stinking Springs Multiple Use Area and Wolf Flat.
Under Salazar's order, BLM officials will look at the land they manage and decide which land should be labeled "Lands With Wilderness Characteristics." Once those decisions are made, the officials will go through a public land-use planning process before designating land as "Wild Lands."
Members of Idaho's Congressional Delegation said last week that they are alarmed by Salazar. Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raúl Labrador wrote Salazar, asking him to explain his Wild Lands directive, which was issued last week 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 could 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.