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Salazar announces "defacto wilderness" to return

United States Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Interior Department is basically abandoning the Bush-era policy that kept the Bureau of Land Management from aggressively inventorying land it controls and holding it as Wilderness Study Areas until Congress acts upon each designated area.

"To sign a secretarial order that restores protections for the wild lands that the Bureau of Land Management oversees on behalf of the American people," Salazar said in an announcement of the policy as he spoke in Denver, Colo.

While Congress is the only body that can make land belonging to the federal government wilderness, the move allows BLM field managers to go ahead and protect areas they consider wilderness without any congressional action.

The announcement took place as the holiday break began in Washington D.C. with Congress adjourning for the session for this year. A new Congress with much more conservative clout will come into power in January and it is expected that the move will rile up some of the incoming members as well as those that have supported the former Interior Secretary Gale Norton's plan that kept the BLM from designating areas wilderness since 2003.

The Norton policy allowed drilling for oil and gas, mineral extraction as well as other commercial uses on land that could possibly be designated wilderness in the future. This new policy will not be designated Wilderness Study Areas as the term used previously to the Norton ban, but instead will call areas "wild lands."

Salazar said that the the wild lands proposals will utilize a public process before they are designated such by the BLM.

According to the Interior Department the designation can be made and then modified later through a public process. Those lands designated such can also later be designated as wilderness by Congress should it wish to do so.

This action has a direct effect on Utah, which has millions of acres under BLM administration. Many Utahns are suspicious of any move the federal government makes when it comes to land designations by it agencies. Many claim allowing an agency to proclaim a designation plays right into the hands of radical environmentalists.

Locally, the Sun Advocate contacted Carbon County Commissioner John Jones, who has been working on land issues for the county since he was elected two years ago.

"To be honest I didn't know there was an announcement coming about this," he said in a telephone interview. "I need to see the announcement and examine its consequences before I can comment on it."

More about the announcement and local comment will appear in the Sun Advocate next Tuesday.

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