In what may bring a resolution to a months-long controversy, the Bureau of Land Management has been officially ordered not to grant any of its holdings wilderness-like protection.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar wrote a memo to bureau Director Bob Abbey on Wednesday confirming that the BLM is not authorized to designate any of its land as "wild lands."
"The protection of America's wilderness for hunting, fishing and backcountry recreation should be a unifying issue," Salazar said in the memo.
The bureau will still be allowed to carry out inventories of public lands and keep records of the resources, as required under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Salazar also ordered Abbey to work with members of Congress as well as local officials and federal land managers to identify areas with potential for federal protection.
The wild lands designation came under fire from the Idaho congressional delegation and members of the state Legislature, who claimed Salazar did not have the authority to allow an entity other than Congress to create new land-use designations.
While only Congress can protect land under the Wilderness Act, wild lands would have been considered for protection on a similar level through a lengthy public process.
The memo comes in response to a provision in Congress's 2011 Continuing Resolution that prohibits the use of federal funding to implement, administer or enforce the secretarial order that created the designation.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org