U.S. interior secretary launches new plan to designate Wilderness

PICKERINGTON, OH – June 14, 2011 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he wants to work with Congress to create a list of public lands by Oct. 15 that should be immediately designated as Wilderness.

And he cites an omnibus public lands bill that was ramrodded through Congress to inappropriately designate 2 million acres of public land as Wilderness as an example of what can be done if the Obama administration and members of Congress work together.

A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are illegal, including off-highway vehicle (OHV) and bicycle riding.

In a June 10 letter to members of Congress, Salazar says he will work with Congress to identify public land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that should be designated as Wilderness.

“Noting the bipartisan success of Congress and the Obama administration to designate approximately 2 million acres of Wilderness in 2009, Secretary Salazar said that he will deliver to Congress, by Oct. 15, 2011, a list of areas overseen by the Bureau of Land Management that he believes are ready for immediate Wilderness designation by Congress,” the Interior Department says in a printed statement.

AMA Washington Representative Rick Podliska warns that this new effort will require vigilance on the part of responsible off-highway riders nationwide.

“The bill the department referred to—the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009—was quickly positioned for a vote and approved through political sleight-of-hand when the contents of an unrelated bill were deleted and the Omnibus Public Lands bill language was inserted,” Podliska says.

“Congress fast-tracked that 1,300-page bill to inappropriately designate some 2 million acres of public land as Wilderness in several states nationwide,” he says. “The legislation was a combination of more than 160 bills, and some federal lawmakers complained that they had never even seen almost half of them, let alone debated them, nor had time to get constituent input on them before the final vote.”

That same proposal in a different bill had passed the Senate earlier but failed to muster enough votes for approval in the House.

The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by Congress in 1964, but anti-access advocates have been abusing legislative and administrative processes in repeated attempts to ban responsible OHV recreation on public land.

“The actions taken by the current Congress could have a profound impact on the ability of responsible off-highway riders to use public land,” Podliska says. “It’s important that all responsible riders stay informed about Wilderness bills in Congress, and take action, when necessary, to help protect their right to ride.”

The easiest way to stay informed is to sign up for AMA email Action Alerts at http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/GetInvolved/ActionAlertSignUp.aspx.

In his letter to members of Congress, Salazar also notes that he will pursue new policy decisions for managing public land, saying that Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes will work with the BLM “and interested parties on recommendations for how the agency should manage the millions of acres of public land that are not protected under the Wilderness Act, but that have wilderness characteristics.”

The letter comes just days after Salazar announced that he was abandoning his controversial Wild Lands policy, which would have allowed the BLM to manage public land as if they had received the restrictive Wilderness land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval.

The new policy was widely expected to restrict or eliminate responsible OHV use in the affected areas, and appeared to have been orchestrated by anti-access groups to pull an end-run around Congress.

It also was expected to have a far-reaching impact because the BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in 12 western states.

Federal lawmakers considered the Wild Lands policy a “land grab” and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority. Several governors also were very vocal in their opposition.

Because of opposition from powerful federal lawmakers, governors, the AMA, its members and other OHV enthusiasts, the Wild Lands policy hit a major snag on April 15.

That’s when President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution — the funding measure that keeps the federal government operating through Sept. 30  — which included language barring the Interior Department from using any money to implement the Wild Lands land-use policy.