Overturning the Bush "No More Wilderness" Policy

LATEST NEWS:  The Interior Department Rightly Restored Protection to Magnificent Wilderness Quality Lands Throughout the West

Background:  In 2003, Bush Interior Secretary Gale Norton entered into a settlement agreement with the State of Utah in which the Interior Department adopted the novel and unprecedented legal position that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lacked power under the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to designate new wilderness study areas (WSAs) on BLM lands.  This “No More Wilderness” settlement dramatically curtailed existing and frequently used authority by previous secretaries (including Reagan Interior Secretary Jim Watt) to identify and designate wilderness-quality lands as WSAs.  Instead, the settlement declared that the BLM’s ability to designate new WSAs expired in 1991, when the separate provision authorizing the BLM’s initial 15-year review of roadless BLM lands terminated.  The settlement was inconsistent with every prior administration’s interpretation of the BLM’s obligation to designate new WSAs.  However, even under the agreement’s plain terms, the settlement did not bind future administrations to that faulty interpretation of the law.

Why This Matters to Wilderness: WSA status matters because these lands are found to have met a threshold test for wilderness values and then must be managed to protect these values.  WSAs are “on track” for wilderness designation, often forming the floor of congressional wilderness bills, and all WSAs are part of the National Landscape Conservation System.  Under the Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, WSAs are statutorily off-limits to oil and gas leasing.  The BLM’s “non-impairment” guidelines, designed to protect the wilderness character of WSAs, are also applied. 

The preservation of millions of acres of wilderness-quality but unprotected BLM lands across the West is at stake.  For example, the action affects nearly 6 million acres of wilderness-quality land in Utah, 650,000 acres in Colorado, more than 5.5 million acres in Arizona and more than 2 million acres in New Mexico.

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What You Can Do: Please send a message to Secretary Salazar and President Obama asking them to defend Utah's magnificent natural treasures from off-road vehicle abuse, vandalism to archaeological sites, and the drilling of new oil and gas well until Congress can protect these landscapes permanently under the Wilderness Act.

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Video: There's a "new sheriff in town"

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