From: Keith Coffman, Reuters, DENVER
Published December 24, 2010 09:03 AM

Obama administration reverses Bush wilderness policy

The Obama administration has restored U.S. land managers' powers to curb development on vast tracts of America's back country, undoing what conservation groups called a "no more wilderness" policy put in place under President George W. Bush.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Thursday that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will again have the authority to set aside large areas of federally owned territory in the West that it deems deserving of wilderness protection.


It would still be up to Congress to decide whether to grant those areas formal wilderness status, putting them permanently off-limits to energy development and other commercial uses.

An official wilderness designation by law prohibits the building of roads or other structures, or any human activities that would alter the natural landscape, such as farming, logging, mining, or oil and gas drilling.

In years past, lands classified by BLM as eligible for such protection were to be protected as de facto wilderness until or unless Congress acted.

But Salazar's new "wild lands" policy gives BLM latitude to allow limited energy development or other activities in such areas, even if they "may impair wilderness characteristics."

"For the last seven years, the BLM -- which manages more land than any other federal agency -- has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy," Salazar said.

"Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf."

File photo shows Ken Salazar.  Credit: R. Greenway, ENN

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