'Wild Lands 2.0': Defeated Salazar Policy Resurrected in Back-Door BLM Move

Western lawmakers are crying foul over new Interior Department guidelines that resurrect the controversial Wild Lands policy that was killed by Congress in April 2011.

Bureau of Land Management manuals uncovered by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) include language nearly identical to the draft proposal put forth by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in December 2010. The "Wild Lands" policy was intended to identify and manage wilderness areas while circumventing the normal -- and transparent -- congressional process.

Pulling manuals from the BLM site on July 31, the lawmakers compared the policies and found the new language to be even "harsher" than Wild Lands in the "carte blanche authority" granted to the agency.

“In some circumstances conditions relating to wilderness characteristics may have changed over time, and an area that was once determined to lack wilderness characteristic many now possess them," states one section of the BLM text. Both manuals include a provision that gives BLM the authority to identify any “roadless island of the public lands” as possessing wilderness characteristics, even under 5,000 acres in defiance of the Wilderness Act.

Bishop said that the new land management practices essentially create de-facto wilderness areas and would unfairly stack the deck against multiple-use management.

"This is clearly an effort to establish ‘Wild Lands 2.0’ and abandons all previous commitments Secretary Salazar made to me and many other western members to work openly and collaboratively on new land management practices," Bishop said. "Excerpts within these handbooks clearly depict a thinly veiled effort on behalf of this administration to further limit access to our nation’s public lands."

"Once again, the Obama administration shows its ‘Washington knows best’ mentality,” Hatch said. “Even though these proposals have already been overwhelmingly rejected, the administration is attempting to administratively put these policies in place. This proposal will give Washington bureaucrats more control over the lands in Utah and across the West."

The Senate Western Caucus reacted angrily to the revelation, with 18 members of the caucus including Bishop and Hatch firing off a letter to Salazar about the backdoor policy move.

"You have stated on more than one occasion that it is important that both you and the Department work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle," wrote the lawmakers, led by caucus chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). "This sentiment was reaffirmed when you met with many of us following the fallout of the Wildlands Secretarial Order. The Department’s recent actions greatly undermine both your commitment to working with us, your duty to follow both the letter and spirit of the Congressional mandate to withhold funding for the Wildlands policy, and the Obama Administration’s commitment towards being the 'most transparent' in history."

They asked Salazar to pull the BLM manuals out of use immediately and move forward with a public process to craft new directives.

"To that end, we request a briefing with you to discuss when Manuals 6310 and 6320 were posted on the internet, the extent to which Manuals 6300-1 and 6300-2 were used in crafting Manuals 6310 and 6320, and the Department’s plan to withdraw and reissue new manuals in an open and transparent process," the letter states.

The caucus members stressed that the fact that the manuals were developed and released with no public notice raised "deep skepticism for the motives behind the underlying directives" -- particularly considering how unpopular the original Wild Lands proposal was.