Categorized | Public Lands

Wild Lands for Wildlife

A new order from Secretary Salazar of the Department of the Interior creates a “Wild Lands” system for the BLM to preserve lands with wilderness characteristics while they await potential designation by Congress as Wilderness Areas.  This is not a new idea, but replaces a similar system that was in place until the Bush Administration got rid of it in 2003.

Pronghorn depend on public lands throughout the west for survival.

Protecting “Wild Lands” is especially important for wildlife because Wilderness Areas provide a stronghold for many of the most iconic species on our public lands, including sage grouse, bison, and pronghorn.  With more than 41 million acres of public land leased to oil and gas companies for drilling (and that’s in addition to heavy-duty mining activity and hundreds of thousands of acres of potential renewable energy development), it is necessary that the DOI hold true to its multi-use mission and provide for wilderness, wildlife habitat, and recreation as well.

Lands with wilderness characteristics spur billions of dollars in spending by outdoor enthusiasts of all types throughout the country, and these economic benefits show that a smart, effective system for preserving lands with wilderness characteristics will be a key factor in protecting both wildlife and the businesses supported by our wildlife resources.  Development levels on our public lands are skyrocketing, and Secretary Salazar’s order is an attempt at balancing out that development with a smart wilderness protection system.

We support the policy, along with 40 other groups signed onto a conservation community letter addressed to the House Natural Resources Committee.  We “believe this fundamental tool for the protection of our public lands should be supported by the Congress and encourage the members of this committee to show its support for public process on the issue of the wild character of our public lands.”

Someone needs to stand up to exaggerated attacks from Republicans on Capitol Hill, which came to a head yesterday in a hearing of the House Natural Resources committee on the Wild Lands policy.  Opposition to the policy has referred to it as a “war on the west,” accusing BLM of a land grab away from industry.  This view, however, ignores the fact that less than 30% of the millions of acres of BLM lands leased to oil and gas companies are actually being used by industry, and that a much smaller fraction has ever been subject to BLM wilderness policy.  It also ignores the $730 billion spent on outdoor recreation every year, which Black Diamond Equipment CEO Peter Metcalfe noted in his testimony before the committee, where he also discussed America’s wilderness and wild lands as the base upon which the US outdoor recreation industry is built.

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- who has written 13 posts on dotWild.

Addie Haughey is the Federal Lands Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. Addie works within Defenders’ Federal Lands Program in Washington, DC to advocate for wildlife on our National Forests and on other public lands.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.