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June 3, 2011

Arizona’s Backcountry Wild Lands Stripped of New Protections

Secretary Salazar Walks Away From Previous Commitment to Conserve Special Places


Contact: Matt Skroch, Executive Director, 520-326-4300

               Katurah Mackay, Deputy Director/Communications, 602-571-2603

               Ian Dowdy, Conservation Associate, 602-252-5530

PHOENIX— In a brief memo issued on June 1st, Secretary Salazar has all but erased his once-strong commitment to protecting areas with wilderness characteristics on BLM lands across the West.  The Secretary confirms that, due to a recent legislative funding limitation, the agency will not implement the Wild Lands Policy, issued through Secretarial Order 3310 in December of last year.  The Wild Lands Policy would have likely provided protections for more than 2 million acres of Arizona’s BLM lands. 

“Secretary Salazar’s recent flip-flop is bad policy and bad for Arizona’s backcountry,” says Arizona Wilderness Coalition Executive Director Matt Skroch.  “Our last, best wild lands are back in limbo. If Congress doesn’t take its place at the driver’s seat on designating wilderness, it has little to complain about if the agency acts to conserve special places.  Salazar’s reversal provides neither legislative nor administrative means to conserve backcountry BLM lands.”    

After a 2004 legal settlement between the state of Utah and former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the BLM was stripped of its power to recommend and protect areas eligible for designation as wilderness.  In December of 2010, Secretary Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey issued clear guidance that restored the BLM’s authority to protect backcountry areas from off-road vehicles and other development.  Now, after a legislative rider forbade the BLM to implement the “Wild Lands” Policy for the current fiscal year, Secretary Salazar has backed down from his December order and called for stakeholders to begin dialogue on compromises.  The Secretary’s June 1st memo also directs the BLM to deliver a report regarding areas the agency recommends for wilderness designation.

Read the Secretary’s June 1st memo here




-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement