Friday, January 21, 2011

Otter to feds: Order threatens state

Governor demands that wilderness policy be revoked

Express Staff Writer

Gov. Butch Otter is arguing that no more federal wilderness lands should be designated in Idaho. Photo by Mountain Express

The sovereignty of the state of Idaho is threatened again, Gov. Butch Otter said last week, lambasting Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for his newly issued wilderness policy.

"The Interior Department has circumvented the sovereignty of states and the will of the public," Otter wrote in a letter to the secretary dated Jan. 12. "[This order] places significant and sweeping authority in the hands of unelected federal bureaucrats."

The order to which Otter made reference was issued by the secretary last month regarding the protection of public lands managed by the BLM. In the order, Salazar makes it clear that the bureau's priority is to protect public lands with "wilderness characteristics." Such characteristics include a minimum of human impact on the land, as well as the ability for people to hunt, fish and participate in other recreational activities.

"The governor has concerns that we have plenty of wilderness designation," said Otter spokesman Jon Hanian. "Additional designation such as this will have an impact not only on our citizens' access, but on stifling economic growth in the state."

Hanian said "federal designation" would stifle growth by stifling development on public lands, including energy and biomass projects.

"It could add additional hurdles and bureaucratic red tape," Hanian said.

Cheryle Zwang, spokeswoman for the bureau, said the new policy just provides consistency in how the BLM will make land-use decisions.

"As part of our planning process, we look at wilderness characteristics already," Zwang said. "From that aspect, it doesn't really change."

Otter's letter demands that the secretary withdraw his order, which would leave the bureau without a wilderness policy. The BLM has had no wilderness policy since 2003, when the agency's previous plan was revoked as part of an out-of-court settlement among then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the state of Utah and other parties.

"This type of sweeping change ... cannot engender the necessary support and inevitably will lead to endless lawsuits," Otter wrote.

Kendra Barkoff, spokeswoman for Salazar, did not directly say what the secretary's response to Otter's letter would be. However, she said, Salazar recognizes the importance of protecting public lands.

"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," Barkoff said. "The wild lands policy is a straightforward, commonsense approach."

The main difference between bureau-managed wild lands and federal wilderness, Zwang said, is that a wilderness designation requires an act of Congress.

"We look at the same characteristics, but wild lands would be something we would define through public participation," Zwang said.

She said a wild lands designation won't be implemented if the public is opposed to it.

"On wild lands, there is the ability to identify it, but not designate it," she said. "You can decide to protect it or not protect it, depending on the public process."

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