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January 6, 2011

Interior Department Restores Protection to Wilderness-Quality Lands Throughout Arizona and West

Reversal of “No More Wilderness” Policy Gives Public Greater Say in Management



Matt Skroch, Executive Director, 520-247-1754

Katurah Mackay, Deputy Director, 602-571-2603

A young visitor to Saddle Mountain near Tonopah. Photo, Scott Hulbert PHOENIX-Before the New Year, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar issued new wilderness guidance to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that restores wilderness protections for millions of acres across Arizona and throughout the West.  The new policy is a reversal of President George W. Bush’s unprecedented 2003 “No More Wild” policy that stripped the agency’s ability to protect wilderness-quality lands.  The policy allows the agency to undergo a public process of identifying and protecting “wild lands,” potentially recommending these areas to Congress for designation as wilderness. 

Through a collection of citizens-created proposals, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition has identified more than two million acres of land—from iconic pieces of the Sonoran Desert to russet stretches of plateau around the Grand Canyon—that qualify for wilderness designation. The organization is in various stages of appealing to members of Congress to work legislatively on protecting these public treasures with broad, local support.

“Secretary Salazar’s order restores wilderness to its rightful place in multiple use management of our public lands at the agency level,” says Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.

“Once again, the BLM has clear direction to facilitate a public process of identifying and protecting wilderness-quality lands through their planning processes.”

Even if all currently unprotected BLM lands which still qualify for wilderness designation were protected now, the vast majority of BLM lands would still be available for non-wilderness uses.  In Arizona, of the 12.2 million acres managed by the BLM, less than 3 million are proposed for wilderness protection outside existing wilderness areas, while the majority of acreage is open to mining and energy development.

Photo by Ian Dowdy.

“The Secretary’s order has the equalizing effect of putting the protection of wilderness on the same playing field of consideration as other activities such as oil and gas leasing, mining, and renewable energy development,” says Kate Mackay, AWC’s deputy director. “This creates more of an opportunity for the public to weigh in on how their lands should look and function than what was mandated under the 2003 directive.”

Only Congress, not the Department of the Interior, can create new wilderness areas pursuant to its authority under The Wilderness Act of 1964.  But the Department of the Interior has the administrative authority to provide protection to qualifying areas so that they are still eligible for protection when Congress considers legislation to do so. Salazar’s order outlined a 60-day window for the BLM to draft its implementation guidance, which will dictate how the order is interpreted at the local and regional levels. 

To read a more in-depth fact sheet on this issue, click here.

To read Secretarial Order 3310, click here.

To read the BLM's draft guidance to its field managers for implementing the Secretarial Order, click here.

Q and A document can be found click here.

Secretary Salazar and Bob Abbey’s remarks as prepared can be found here.


-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement