02:00 PM

Christmas comes early for America’s wild lands

Millions of acres of America’s unique public lands could receive needed protections


  • The Department of the Interior today issued a new “Wild Lands” secretarial order to the Bureau of Land Management, instructing the agency to designate unique areas with wilderness qualities, and manage them in a way that protects those qualities.
  • The order restores an authority which had been undermined by a 2003 Bush administration settlement.
  • Areas that could receive protection thanks to today’s action include: Vermillion Basin in Colorado; Labyrinth Canyon in Utah; Adobe Town in Wyoming; Owyhee Canyonlands in southeastern Oregon; Granite Range in Nevada; and Quayle Draw in Arizona.
WASHINGTON (12/23/2010) -

The following is a statement from Rodger Schlickeisen, president at Defenders of Wildlife:

“After eight years of the Bush administration dropping lumps of coal in our Christmas stockings, Interior Secretary Salazar's announcement is a wonderful present for all Americans. Millions of acres of unprotected, wilderness-quality lands exist on BLM lands across the West. Now, the BLM and Congress will once again be able to take steps to ensure that future generations of Americans can still enjoy these spectacular landscapes.

“Some of America’s most unique and valuable lands have remained unprotected for years due to the short-sighted action of the Bush administration. Today’s announcement will allow the broad vistas of Colorado’s Vermillion Basin, Utah’s Valley of the Gods, and many other unique and irreplaceable landscapes, which provide habitat for wildlife like sage grouse and pronghorn, to be managed to maintain their wildness.

“Of course, we will be watching carefully to make sure that lands are actually managed in keeping with the promise of today’s announcement.”



Since 2003, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands worthy of formal designation as Wilderness Areas have faced increasing threats due to former Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s legally flawed abandonment of the BLM’s authority to protect wild lands for their wilderness values.

The Bureau of Land Management takes care of 245 million acres of public land on behalf of all Americans.  Just 3 percent is currently designated as wilderness. Once lands are identified by agencies as having wilderness values, agencies must manage those lands to protect those values, which could include limiting energy development and other activities.

Every administration aside from the George W. Bush administration (including the Reagan administration’s Interior Secretary, James Watt) has recognized the BLM’s authority to identify and safeguard wilderness-quality lands.  

But under the George W. Bush administration, Secretary Norton entered into a settlement agreement with the State of Utah in which the Department of the Interior adopted an unprecedented legal position that the BLM lacked power to safeguard wilderness values on BLM lands. The settlement eliminated the BLM’s ability to inventory lands with wilderness qualities, and manage them to protect those qualities.

Today’s announcement potentially 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.


Read the Department of the Interior’s press release


Cat Lazaroff, 202-772-3270