Upcoming change in fed wilderness policy stirs anger in the West

The Obama administration's plan to reverse a Bush-era policy and make millions of undeveloped acres, including some in Alaska, again eligible for federal wilderness protection is prompting angry responses from ranchers, sportsmen and energy developers, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Protections will vary from site to site, but in general such lands will be shielded from activities that disrupt habitat or destroy the solitude of the wild, according to the Interior Department. That might mean banning oil drilling, uranium mining or cattle grazing in some areas. It could also mean restrictions on recreational activities, such as snowmobiling or biking. ...

That has many in the West hopping mad.

"This harms economic growth," said Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who will take over next month as chair of the House subcommittee on public lands. "The West is being abused."

House Republicans say they will hold hearings on the new policy and perhaps seek to cut funding to the BLM for identifying and managing wild lands.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the huge National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is one prominent Alaska tract that may be subject to the new rules.

[Salazar's] department released a Q&A on the new policy that says, "There has never been a statewide wilderness inventory in Alaska."

However, the BLM and other federal agencies have released many reports over the years that say, "Alaska lands were exhuastively inventoried, reviewed and studied for their wilderness values under the Wilderness Act cirteria, beginning in 1971, when Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act."

Most of the 1970s were consumed by reviews of Alaska land to determine which should be called wilderness and which should be placed in parks, refuges, forests, etc. ...

Salazar is promising public hearings before any new restrictions are implemented.