Dozens of federal lawmakers oppose new ‘Wild Lands’ land-use policy

Nearly 60 federal lawmakers have joined forces to ask Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to withdraw a recent order creating a new land-use designation that could bar responsible off-highway riding from public land, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) reports.

In a letter dated Jan. 28, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the outgoing chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus; Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Western Caucus; and 47 other House members and eight other senators asked Salazar to rescind Secretarial Order 3310, which Salazar signed on Dec. 22. To see which lawmakers signed the letter, click here: http://robbishop.house.gov/UploadedFiles/wild_lands-signatures_final.pdf.

The order created a new land-use designation called “Wild Lands” that essentially allows officials in the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage public land as if it had received a “Wilderness” land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval.

A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are prohibited. The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by Congress in 1964, but anti-access forces have been abusing the legislative process to ban responsible off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation on public land.

“I am increasingly concerned by Secretary Salazar’s and the current administration’s ongoing efforts to circumvent Congress when it comes to creating new public lands policies,” Bishop said. “The DOI’s [Department of Interior's] unilateral decisions regarding the management of our public lands and resources are detrimental to communities and businesses throughout the West.

“Their lack of regard for the impact this will have on local economies is unacceptable,” he continued. “It is time that they start taking into consideration the people that will be hurt by their decisions to operate in a vacuum, starting with the withdrawal of Secretarial Order 3310.”

The lawmakers’ high-powered opposition is just the latest expression of outrage following Salazar’s announcement of the new land-use policy during last year’s holiday season. Several western state governors have also asked Salazar to withdraw his order: Wyoming’s Matthew Mead, Idaho’s C.L. “Butch” Otter and Utah’s Gary Herbert.

The AMA has also raised concerns. Ed Moreland, AMA senior vice president for government relations, sent a letter to Salazar on Jan. 11 asking him to explain whether the new Wild Lands land-use designation will block traditional routes of travel for off-highway riding.

Salazar’s order has far-reaching implications because the BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in western states. Under his order, BLM officials will evaluate the land they manage and decide which areas should be labeled “Lands With Wilderness Characteristics.” Once those decisions are made, the officials will go through a public land-use planning process before designating land as “Wild Lands.”

The AMA encourages riders to contact their federal lawmakers and urge them to oppose the “Wild Lands” policy. A ready-to-use prewritten letter is available at AmericanMotorcyclist.com > Rights > Issues and Legislation.

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