Members of Congress act to protect western wildlands

As I discussed in a previous post, the Wilderness Act of 1964 authorizes Congress to protect our nation's wildest lands in order to preserve their natural state and all of the values associated with their wildness. Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) are lands that have been found to have the same wild values, but have not yet been formally protected by Congress. Historically, federal agencies managed WSAs in the same way they managed officially designated Wilderness -- prohibiting mechanized activities -- so that these areas would remain wild and eligible for wilderness designation in the future.

During the Bush administration, Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed a decision that prohibits the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from protecting lands possessing wilderness characteristics as wilderness study areas. NRDC has strongly opposed this give-away to industry, which allows development such as oil and gas drilling on some of America's most pristine western wildlands before Congress has an opportunity to protect them.

Last week, almost 90 Members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the new Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, asking him to rescind this decision. Legislation to permanently protect over nine million acres of the wildest lands in Utah is pending in Congress; these spectacular lands in Utah's Redrock country are now threatened by a range of harmful activities, including oil and gas production. In their recent letter, Members of Congress urged Secretary Salazar to protect the wilderness qualities of these lands until Congress sees to their protection. We hope Secretary Salazar will act swiftly to restore longstanding policies that will protect these lands.