Administration Seeks to Expand Federal Control Over Western Lands

Federal land in the West could soon come under more control as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) consider whether to designate millions of acres of federal land as “wild lands.”

Last December, Secretary Salazar announced that the BLM would be tasked with inventorying its 235 million acres of land holdings in an effort to identify wilderness quality lands.
Originally conceived to preserve lands unmarred by human hands, wilderness status (and soon wild lands status) is now used as a tool to block desirable land from energy development, oil exploration, cattle grazing, hunting, farming, mountain biking, and every other form of use and recreation.
This drew the ire (and rightfully so) of several Western lawmakers and governors accusing the administration of circumventing Congress who traditionally has the sole jurisdiction do designate wilderness areas. In House Natural Resources hearing held this week, Chairman Doc Hastings re-iterated this sentiment in his opening statement saying:
“The term “wild lands” may be new, but the Administration’s motives are not. This order is a clear attempt to all the Administration to create de facto Wilderness areas without Congressional approval…
“Before examining the widespread impacts of this order, the Administration’s lack of legal authority to impose such a policy deserves emphasis. The Wilderness Act of 1964 very clearly gives Congress, and only Congress, the statutory authority to create new Wilderness areas.
“Its absurd for the Obama Administration to claim that giving wilderness a different label of “wild lands” will somehow pass legal muster. Clever semantics cannot circumvent the law.”
Idaho Governor Butch Otter and Utah Governor Gary Herbert were also on hand to testify, warning of the economic impact, including significant job losses that could occur should this order take effect.
This Secretarial Order is a serious threat to all property owners in the West.  Over the past several decades, there has been a proliferation of programs dedicated to the preservation of land that has extended the grasp of the federal government and its influence over private property rights. As a result, landowners have seen their property value diminish due to increased land use regulations and outdoor recreation enthusiasts have found new restrictions on both public and private land.