The battle over an obscure policy directive by Interior Secretary Salazar over BLM lands blew up this week, with Governor Otter testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rep. Raul Labrador introducing his very first piece of legislation.
The “wild lands” policy, announced in December, would simply have BLM consider wilderness values if and when it writes management plans for the properties under its control. Until a Bush administration settlement with the State of Utah in 2003, it has been the standard practice of the agency dating back to a Congressional mandate in 1976. Salazar’s directive doesn’t create new areas for wilderness-level protection. Rather, it simply allows some sort of continued protection to occur, if warranted, and after an extensive public review. Indeed, both Democratic and Republican administrations have maintained provisional protections for these places until Congress can consider permanent designations. Nationwide, less than 1% of BLM’s land is designated as wilderness. Some 42%, however, is leased to oil and gas interests.
According to a 2007 management plan and environmental impact statement for the Coeur d’Alene region, BLM identified only three parcels that might qualify for wilderness-level considerations. One is a 720 acre BLM parcel adjacent to the Forest Service’s 98,000 acre roadless area on the Selkirk Crest. Another is a 12,000 acre BLM parcel adjacent to 22,000 acres of Forest Service roadless area on Grandmother Mountain in Shoshone County. Another is 9000 acres around Crystal Lake at the headwaters of Latour Creek south of Cataldo, also in Shoshone County.
But continuing to protect this type of spectacular roadless land is some sort of outrageous, apparently.
Labrador’s bill, called the “Idaho Land Sovereignty Act” would require Congressional approval for BLM’s continued protection of these lands for their wilderness values. Labrador’s over the top press release says:
This denies jobs and security to a nation in need of both and is a sad example of the out of touch decisions being forced upon us by an aloof administration. In addition, the administration is totally out of line with the interests of Western states by denying us the right to manage our own lands and wildlife populations.
Meanwhile, Idaho’s fiercely anti-wilderness Governor Otter testified to Congress that the floating green on Lake Coeur d’Alene was more valuable than Idaho’s 2-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness managed in part by the BLM.
It’s a nice green, on a really nice lake, but literally, there’s no comparison.