Facing resistance from congressional Republicans, the Obama administration reversed course Wednesday and jettisoned a policy aimed at evaluating whether millions of acres in the West would qualify for wilderness protection.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a secretarial order in late December saying the Bureau of Land Management would reassess if land the agency holds constituted “wild lands” that deserved additional federal protection. The budget deal President Obama and congressional leaders struck in April barred Interior from spending any money for the rest of the current year to implement the policy.
In a statement, Salazar said he would not pursue the policy but would direct Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes to work with the bureau and “interested parties to develop recommendations regarding the management of public lands with wilderness characteristics.”
The question of how best to evaluate millions of acres of Western land has produced a series of policy flips in recent years. A former Interior secretary, Gale A. Norton, reached a court settlement with Utah in 2003 that curtailed which lands would be subject to a wilderness review. The order Salazar issued Dec. 23 reversed Norton’s directive.