The Obama administration repealed a Bush-era policy curbing wilderness designations. A secretarial order issued Dec. 23 by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar establishes protection of 245 million acres of public backcountry areas where Americans recreate, find solitude and enjoy the wild.
Secretarial Order 3310 directs the Bureau of Land Management, based on the input of the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process, to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "Wild Lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.
"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," said Salazar. "This policy ensures that the lands of the American public are protected for current and future generations to come."
The Bureau of Land Management, which manages more land than any other federal agency, has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003, when the wilderness management guidance in the agency's handbook was revoked as part of a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah and other parties.
"The new Wild Lands policy affirms the BLM's authorities under the law - and our responsibility to the American people - to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee as part of our multiple use mission," said Bureau of Land Management director Bob Abbey.
Abbey said that Secretarial Order 3310 fills an important land management need for the public and the agency. "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.