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Alaska sues over federal wild lands policy

  • Author: Patti Epler
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published April 30, 2011

Gov. Sean Parnell is going to court against the federal government again, this time in a Utah case that challenges the Bureau of Land Management's "Wild Lands" policy.

The policy, which would allow BLM to evaluate the wilderness values of lands it manages and decide appropriate uses for those lands, caused a major political stir especially in Western states that saw it as another way for the federal government to lock up land.

But the policy was put on hold several weeks ago as part of the federal budget agreement. Republicans insisted that there be no money put toward the program so it's not being implemented.

Still, Utah announced Friday it was filing suit against the Interior Department and BLM to invalidate the policy. Parnell's office put out a press release late Friday saying Alaska would join Utah in challenging the legality of the program.

In the press release, Parnell contends the new policy would create potential costs and delays in permits for development on BLM lands and would override existing land use plans.

In Alaska, according to the motion filed by the state seeking to join Utah's lawsuit, BLM manages more than 72 million acres -- more than in any other state. Perhaps the biggest bone of contention is over the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska which falls under BLM management. But the agency also oversees mining districts and other resource development areas.

In a January letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Parnell called the Wild Lands Policy an "end run" around the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which created national parks and refuges throughout the state. The lawsuit alleges BLM was prohibited from managing wilderness under the federal law.

BLM is currently working on land management plans for acreage it oversees in Alaska, including one for the Eastern Interior region and one for the NPR-A.

Darcie Warden, BLM lands outreach coordinator for the Alaska Wilderness League, said she hadn't seen the state legal filing late Friday.

But, she said, the Wild Lands policy was never intended to set aside wilderness areas because that can only be done by Congress, not an agency.

"The Wild Lands policy is different than wilderness," she said.

Moreover, Warden said, both protect subsistence activity in Alaska.

She said BLM land is generally multi-purpose, multi-use areas and that BLM manages the land so that it's appropriate for all users.

"It's not in BLM's mandate to block development," Warden said. "Their job is to make sure everyone has access to the needs" of the area.

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com

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