February 23, 2011
Local Officials' Letter Supports Secretary Salazar's New Wild Lands Policy,
Highlights Economic Boost of Protected Public Lands
Meanwhile, House lawmakers strip funding for BLM to carry out wild lands protection.
Matt Skroch, Executive Director, 520-247-1754
Katurah Mackay, Deputy Director, 602-571-2603
PHOENIX—More than 65 local elected officials from across the West signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, supporting his new policy for the Bureau of Land Management to protect lands with wilderness character across the West. From Arizona, seventeen officials—members of the House and Senate, county supervisors, and city council members—signed the letter, acknowledging the critical asset brought by protected wilderness lands to Arizona’s economy and job base.
Citing activities like hunting, hiking, camping, and fishing, the letter hails wild places as a “reliable economic driver for generations,” with a $730 billion annual contribution to the United States economy. In Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department cites more than $1.3 billion in revenue to the state from hunting and fishing alone. All outdoor-related recreation in Arizona—including wildlife watching activities like bird-watching, sight-seeing, and hiking—produces almost $5 billion annually in services and retail sales across the state.
“The economic pulse of Arizona is very much tied to the well-being of our natural environment,” says Mary Rose Wilcox, Maricopa County Supervisor, who signed the letter of support for Secretary Salazar’s Wild Lands policy. “Wilderness lands, in particular, provide tourists and residents the ability to experience Arizona how it used to be—the heritage that we will celebrate in 2012. Natural beauty is what makes Arizona unique, what draws people here to spend money, and entices them back again and again. It’s a major victory when wilderness areas are so close to urban communities. It affords the urban dwellers the opportunity to experience the wonder of nature.”
On December 23, Salazar signed Secretarial Order No. 3310 to require the Bureau of Land Management to protect lands with wilderness characteristics—a reversal of the Bush Administration’s 2003 “No More Wild” policy that stripped the agency’s ability to protect wilderness-quality lands. Salazar’s new 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.
“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.”
As the steward and repository of citizen-proposed wilderness proposals throughout the state, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition has identified more than two million acres of BLM land—from iconic pieces of the Sonoran Desert to russet stretches of the Arizona Strip —that qualify for wilderness designation in Arizona. The organization is in various stages of appealing to members of Congress to work legislatively on protecting these public treasures with broad, local support.
“We pride ourselves on outstanding golf resorts and state-of-the-art spring training facilities here in Arizona,” says Kate Mackay, deputy director with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, “but the real money-maker for the state is right under our noses: Arizona’s natural, wild beauty that people can’t find anywhere else. That kind of amenity never loses its appeal.”
Some members of Congress are already attacking Secretary Salazar’s new Wild Lands policy: in the “continuing resolution” (CR) passed this week by the House—the bill that funds the federal government until Congress passes the annual budget—anti-wilderness lawmakers stripped funding to prevent the BLM from carrying out the new Wild Lands policy. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring the CR to the Senate floor next week.
Only Congress 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. Guidance manuals are expected to be released this week.
To read the local officials' letter of support, click here.
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.