On second thought

The Obama administration has retreated on plans to designate wilderness land in the West. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a memo saying his department will not designate any more “wild” territory and instead will turn to consensus-building with congressmembers.

“The protection of America’s wilderness for hunting, fishing and backcountry recreation should be a unifying issue that mobilizes us to a common purpose,” Salazar said. “We will focus our effort on building consensus around locally-supported initiatives and working with members [of Congress] to advance their priorities for wilderness designations in their states and districts.”

The action came after the Obama administration reversed a developer-friendly Bush administration policy on undeveloped lands. In December, Interior restored wilderness eligibility to much of the land that had been opened to development under George W. Bush. Several Republican governors have filed lawsuits to effectively reinstate the Bush policy.

Nevada environmental leader Marjorie Sill said, “I, of course, am disappointed but not surprised. Nearly all Republicans now seem to be totally anti-environmental. They don’t recognize the value of wilderness or wild places, as [Republican president] Theodore Roosevelt did. They think only in the short term of what can line their pockets, rather than what will be the best for the land and its creatures, including humans, in the future. Also most of them seem to be funded by development interests such as oil companies. It is sad that decisions are being made by people who have no concept of the importance of the ‘web of life.’ ”

Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah said he hopes the action shows that the administration “has finally recognized that Congress determines new wilderness designations, not the administration.”

Former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is speaking out against what he considers the failure of President Obama in voicing a bold wilderness policy, putting Republicans in a stronger role. Babbit was Interior Secretary under President Clinton and is a former Arizona governor.