Speech: Remarks of Secretary Salazar and Director Abbey - Announcement of BLM Wild Lands Policy

Last edited 09/29/2021

Denver, Colorado

Secretary Salazar:

Good morning, everyone.

Thanks for joining us.

I am here in Denver today with BLM Director Bob Abbey, Assistant Secretary and Chief of Staff Tom Strickland, Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment and Whit Fosburgh, CEO/President of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Today, I am proud to sign a secretarial order that restores protections for the wild lands that the Bureau of Land Management oversees on behalf of the American people.

For the last seven years, the BLM - which manages more land than any other federal agency - has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy.

That is because the wilderness management guidance in the agency's handbook was revoked in 2003 as part of a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other parties.

But the fact is, Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf.

The wild backcountry here in Colorado, and across the West, is also a huge economic engine for local communities. Outfitters, guides, hotels, restaurants, and retailers like this one all have a stake in the protection of America's great outdoors.

Wise stewardship isn't just the right thing to do, it's good for business and it's good for jobs.

So today, we are charting a new course for the protection of America's wild lands that recognizes just how important they are to the American people and to the local communities whose economies depend on the great outdoors.

As someone who grew up farming and ranching, I have always believed that those whose livelihoods are tied to the land should have a strong voice in how we manage our public resources, including how we protect the remote and wild places we as Americans are blessed to have inherited.

The secretarial order I am signing today stays true to these principles and, I believe, will help us move beyond the tired debates of the past. We don't have to choose between our economic health and the wildlife, water, and lands we love. That is a false choice.

With this secretarial order, I am directing the Bureau of Land Management, based on the input of the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process, to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "Wild Lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

I am also directing the BLM to maintain a current inventory of public lands with wilderness characteristics, which will contribute to the agency's ability to make balanced, informed land management decisions, consistent with its multiple-use mission. I believe we need to know more about which American lands remain wild, so we can make wise choices, informed by science, for our children, grandchildren and future generations.

Now: this Secretarial Order is a common-sense policy, so let me be perfectly clear about what it does and does not do.

It does not "lock up" western lands from other uses, as I am sure some people will claim. If an area is designated as a "Wild Land" through the public land management planning process, that designation can be modified later based on a new public planning process.

This policy has no effect on lands that are not under BLM's jurisdiction.

It also does not change the management of existing Wilderness Study Areas pending before Congress or congressionally designated Wilderness Areas.

And BLM may still develop recommendations, with public involvement, regarding possible Congressional designation of lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The important thing about this secretarial order is that it provides a clear policy for the management of public lands with wilderness characteristics, and it gives local communities a strong voice in that process.

This is a fresh path we are charting. With this policy - and the new "Wild Land" designation - we are creating a new tool for the balanced management of our public lands and for wise stewardship on behalf of future generations.

BLM Director Bob Abbey

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I am pleased to be here in Denver. It looks like Coloradoans seem to leave their holiday shopping to the last minute.

Being here is a great reminder of some of the many benefits America's public lands provide us.

The Bureau of Land Management has a multiple-use mission, which we take very seriously.

We are the largest land manager in the country. We oversee 245 million acres of land, including places like Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado and the new Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation area on the Western Slope (which the Secretary established when he was a Senator).

On the public lands, we oversee outdoor recreation, oil and gas development, livestock grazing, cultural and historic preservation, and - more and more - a renewable energy frontier that is springing to life under the Obama Administration.

Our goal is to strike the right balance in our management so that we sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Today's secretarial order will help the BLM take a giant step toward meeting its goal of balanced stewardship.

The new Wild Lands policy affirms the BLM's authorities under the law - and our responsibility to the American people - to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee as part of our multiple use mission.

The secretarial order fills an important land management need for the public and the agency. "Wild Lands," which we will designate through a public process, will be managed to protect wilderness characteristics unless or until such time as a new public planning process modifies the designation. The Wild Lands designation will be a valuable tool for us and the public.

Moreover, the Secretary's direction that we maintain a current inventory of lands with wilderness characteristics will help ensure that the decisions we make are informed by the best information available

Wilderness values are a high priority for the American people, and that should be - and will be - reflected in the BLM's management policies.

We are moving swiftly to implement the Secretarial Order. BLM today is issuing draft guidance to its state offices. We will finalize that guidance within 60 days.

Once again, Mr. Secretary, it is a pleasure to be here in Denver, and I am proud of the balanced, common-sense path we are charting on behalf of the American people.

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