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Salazar Backs Away From 'Wild Lands' Order

The Interior Department's "wild lands" order had made millions of acres of undeveloped land mainly in the west eligible for federal wilderness protection.

Colorado environmental groups are sharply criticizing a move by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that rescinds a sweeping order that could have made millions of acres of land across the West eligible for wilderness protection. But the Interior Department's reversal follows mounting criticism from oil and gas officials and some members of Congress.

In a memo to the Bureau of Land Management Wednesday, Secretary Salazar said no undeveloped public lands will be designated as 'wild lands.'  Instead, the Interior Department will work with local and federal officials and other interests to determine which lands may be suitable for wilderness protections. 

"It puts these lands at risk," said Nada Culver, of the Wilderness Society in Denver. "Without a designation, without direction about how to inventory and how to manage and how to protect lands with wilderness characteristics, those lands are at risk of having none of those things happen."

The Interior’s Wild Lands order was originally announced late last year in Denver.  But Republicans successfully added a rider in the recent federal budget bill stripping funding for its implementation. 

Oil and gas industry officials praised Salazar’s decision.

"We’re glad that the Secretary has acknowledged that the open, public process is much preferable to a top-down, federal bureaucracy solution," said Kathleen Sgamma, director of government affairs for the Western Energy Alliance


Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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