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The "Wild Lands Initiative" announced in December 2010 by Interior Secretary Salazar would have spurred the Bureau of Land Management to review up to 220 million acres of federal land not currently designated as Wilderness. That policy has been rescinded.


Bureau of Land Management will not use "Wild Lands" designation

Editor's note: The text below is the announcement that the Bureau of Land Management will not be designating any federal lands as "Wild Lands" as proposed in Secretarial Order 3310. The 2011 Continuing Resolution for the budget (PL 112-10) included a prohibition againt using Federal funds to implement the Wild Lands order.


Congressionally approved wilderness areas are an important part of the conservation assets of the United States. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently manages 221 wilderness areas and 545 wilderness study areas designated by Congress, which comprise approximately 8.8 percent of the nearly 245 million acres managed by the BLM.

There is longstanding support for the designation of wilderness areas. A number of proposed wilderness designations are pending before the 112th Congress, and other areas are being actively considered for additions to the wilderness system. Wilderness areas provide a number of benefits, including unique hunting, fishing, and recreational opportunities.

The BLM maintains an inventory of all lands under its jurisdiction, pursuant to Section 201 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). As these inventories confirm, the BLM manages large landscapes that have wilderness characteristics.

On December 22, 2010, I issued Secretarial Order 3310 to address the BLM's management of wilderness resources on lands under its jurisdiction. Under Secretarial Order 3310, I ordered the BLM to use the public resource management planning process to designate certain lands with wilderness characteristics as "Wild Lands."

On April 14, 2011, the United States Congress passed the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (Pub. L. 112-10)(2011 CR), which includes a provision (Section 1769) that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310 in Fiscal Year 2011. I am confirming today that, pursuant to the 2011 CR, the BLM will not designate any lands as "Wild Lands."

As required by law, the BLM will continue to maintain inventories oflands under its jurisdiction, including lands with wilderness characteristics. Also, consistent with FLPMA and other applicable authorities, the BLM will consider the wilderness characteristics of public lands when undertaking its multiple use land use planning and when making project-level decisions. In that regard, I am directing Deputy Secretary David Hayes to work with the BLM and interested parties to develop recommendations regarding the management ofBLM lands with wilderness characteristics.

Based on my conversations with members of Congress, there is broad interest in managing our public lands in a sensible manner that takes into account such lands' wilderness qualities. There continues to be broad support for providing permanent protection for some of those lands under the Wilderness Act.

Given our shared interests in managing the public lands for the benefit ofour communities and for future generations, the Department ofthe Interior will be soliciting input from members of Congress, state and local officials, tribes, and Federal land managers to identify BLM lands that may be appropriate candidates for Congressional protection under the Wilderness Act. I am directing the Deputy Secretary to work with the BLM to deliver a report to me and to the Congress regarding those areas.

photo of people on trail

The Lost Coast National Recreation Trail in the
BLM's King Range National Conservation Area


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signs BLM "Wild Lands" designation order

Secretarial Order 3310 gives the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) immediate authority to "designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as 'Wild Lands' and to manage them to protect their wilderness values."

The new policy met with a variety of responses. On the one hand, it ignores efforts by outdoor recreation enthusiasts to establish federal land protection policies that would allow for bicycles and in some cases motorized trail activities. (See "Back-Country Recreation Area Designation: A Positive Alternative to Wilderness" and Mountain Bike Recreation and Designated Wilderness: A Case for Reconsideration).

The order has also met with controversy among some who feel it provides activists a way to bypass Congress and cover millions of acres of federal lands in western states with the same restrictions as Congressionally-designated Wilderness areas. Environmental groups, however, applauded what amounts to a reversal of the policy adopted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2003. That policy stated that new areas on BLM lands could not be recommended for Congressional Wilderness designation.

Wild Lands versus Wilderness designation

BLM Director Bob Abbey said that "Wild Lands," which will be designated through a public process, will be managed to protect wilderness characteristics unless or until such time as a new public planning process modifies the designation. Because the "Wild Lands" designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, it differs from "Wilderness Areas," which are designated by Congress and cannot be modified except by legislation, and "Wilderness Study Areas," which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as Wilderness Areas or modify their management.

Designating new Wild Lands areas

The Department of the Interior states that "For proposed projects that are consistent with existing land use plans, the consideration of newly identified lands with wilderness characteristics will be a part of the environmental (NEPA) analysis for the proposed project. Consideration of whether to protect the wilderness characteristics as Wild Lands will be accomplished through the BLM’s open and public land use planning process."

It also states that "BLM may also determine through a public process that authorization of uses that may impair wilderness characteristics is appropriate for some areas, consistent with other applicable requirements of law and other resource management considerations."

A Draft Wilderness Inventory Manual accompanied the Secretarial order. The Manual includes a "Route Analysis Form" which has a section for BLM staff to list the purpose of existing routes. THe list of "Factors to consider when determining whether a route is a road for wilderness inventory purposes" suggests livestock uses, inholdings, mining, Concentrated Use Site (camp site), utilities, and administrative purposes, but does not mention any recreational use.

Managing land for wilderness character

Once the BLM designates a "Wild Lands" area, it will be managed as wilderness, which means only the "public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use." The Wilderness Act (16 U.S. C. 1131-1136) states "there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area." For recreationists, this prohibits bicycles and off-highway vehicles, while wheelchairs are allowed.

However, the designation still allows gas and oil drilling on BLM lands where such activities are deemed appropriate.

What is wilderness character?

BLM's draft guidance for its field managers states that "The inventory will evaluate wilderness characteristics as discussed in Section 2(c) of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and incorporated in FLPMA, which states:

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man‟s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

BLM land management process

A Department of the Interior Q and A publication states: "For project-level decisions in areas where the BLM determines that the land appears to have wilderness characteristics that have not been both inventoried and analyzed in a land use planning process conducted in accordance with this Order, the BLM shall preserve its discretion to protect wilderness characteristics through subsequent land use planning, unless the BLM determines otherwise as set forth below. Where the BLM has determined that the land appears to have wilderness characteristics and the proposed project may impair those apparent wilderness characteristics, the BLM shall conduct an inventory. If the inventory identifies lands with wilderness characteristics, the BLM shall consider the potential effects of the proposed project on the wilderness characteristics and measures to minimize impacts on those characteristics as documented in an appropriate NEPA analysis. Based on this NEPA analysis, the BLM may approve a project that may impair wilderness characteristics if appropriate and consistent with requirements of applicable law and other resource management considerations consistent with this Order or necessary for the exercise of valid existing rights. "

According to the Department of the Interior, "Before the policy is issued as final guidance (which will be within 60 days as directed in the Order), the Bureau is sending a draft of the policy to its State Offices for a 30-day review, asking for a preliminary assessment of impacts to workload and existing, ongoing, and upcoming land use planning efforts."

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