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Press Release: Washington's Wilderness Giveaway Jeopardizes Arizona's Last Wild Sanctuaries

New guidelines from the Department of Interior instruct BLM to essentially ignore wilderness character and allow all other uses on BLM-managed lands.

October 6, 2003

Phoenix— The Department of Interior has issued its guidelines for rolling back wilderness study areas and wilderness designation across the nation—jeopardizing the integrity and long-term survival of more than 2 million acres of Arizona’s most spectacular wild places.

The  new formal guidelines direct the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to refrain from providing interim protections for wilderness-quality lands, which means that while acreage waits for permanent protection from Congress, the lands may undergo road-building, off-road vehicle use, mining, oil-drilling, and other degrading activities that will forever prevent their eventual protection as wilderness .

The guidelines draw a sharp line in the sand that forbids the Bureau to manage potential new wilderness so as to prevent impairment to wilderness character and resources. At stake are Arizona gems such as the Sand Tank Mountains in Sonoran Desert National Monument , portions of the striking Vermilion Cliffs , and the remote depths of Agua Fria canyon. Under the new guidelines, more than 2 million acres of BLM lands in Arizona will be open to all uses except wilderness protection.

“Every Interior Secretary since 1976—including James Watt—concluded that BLM has the authority to protect wilderness-quality lands, including those being studied for designation, through its general land management planning powers,” says Don Hoffman, executive director for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “Arizona lands that have not been altered by the hands of man are increasingly rare and deserve the utmost protection. These new guidelines abruptly silence the wishes of the American people to save their last wild treasures.”

A 2001 study by the Outdoor Industry Association found that Arizona outdoor enthusiasts pumped nearly $270 million dollars into the state economy. At the same time, other studies show that states offering strong conservation of their outdoor spaces—and those with the highest total acreage of public lands—are among the fastest growing in population, economic stability, and job security. [Source: Outdoor Industry Association, State of the Industry Report 2002, Boulder, Colo.] Arizona’s population is expected to surpass California’s current number—34 million people—in just 40 years, making our remote and undeveloped areas more valuable than ever.

The Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Earthjustice, and a host of other Western-based conservation groups are challenging the rollback measure in court, a lawsuit that stems from the settlement struck between the Department of Interior and Utah’s former Governor Mike Leavitt in April.

For more information, contact:

Don Hoffman, Executive Director: 928-339-4426;


-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement