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Nevada Enviromentalist Commentary in Reno Gazette Journal

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Dave Cooper: BLM now has guidance to preserve our last wild places

9:00 PM, Apr. 26, 2011|

By Dave Cooper

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar's wildlands policy for BLM lands, initiated last

December, is nothing new under the sun. In fact, the identification and management of undeveloped BLM public land resources is a struggle that has gone on for the last 35 years.

Actually, if you look at the history of trying to identify, protect and manage

undeveloped land resources in the United States, you could go back to all the

discussions and arguments in the late 19th century that led to the creation of the national parks and wilderness. What a rich history we have! For many years, stakeholders from across the West debated what to do with the last remaining large, undeveloped landscapes in the United States.

With the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976, Congress mandated the BLM to conduct an inventory of public lands with wilderness characteristics and to update that inventory from time to time as needed. Over the past 30 years, I was part of that process, serving as outdoor recreation and wilderness specialist in several Western states, as well as manager of the Black Rock National Conservation Area in Nevada.

BLM finished the first required wilderness inventory to identify Wilderness Study Areas in 1980. Unfortunately, the process was wrought with bias toward development and extractive uses. It became apparent that numerous areas across the West were arbitrarily excluded from wilderness consideration during this first inventory.

This was especially evident in Utah, where Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt selected BLM teams to re-inventory the public lands in 1996. I was on one of these teams, and we found widespread abuse in our reviews and identified an additional 6 million acres of lands with wilderness characteristics outside the original 3.2 million acres of WSAs.

Enter the Bush administration in 2001. Utah challenged the wilderness re-

inventory in court, and Secretary of Interior Gale Norton quickly settled the suit. BLM was stripped of the authority to designate future WSAs and left with no clear direction to identify or manage those remaining undeveloped roadless resources that were "overlooked."

Millions of acres of roadless areas were consequently opened to development

without any consideration of the wilderness character of those landscapes.

In keeping with the multiple-use mandate required by law, the wild lands designation is once again an open public process allowing BLM to properly identify and manage roadless undeveloped lands that were previously not considered in the land-use planning process.

Of course, only Congress can designate wilderness areas, but the BLM again has the guidance it needs to help preserve our last wild places before Congress has the chance to act.

BLM is a very capable agency with dedicated employees who are qualified to

carry out its mandated mission of multiple-use land management.

These wild lands are the last remaining undeveloped areas in the U.S. and deserve consideration to be conserved for present and future generations as one of the multiple resources and uses found on our vast public lands.

Dave Cooper is a former manager of Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. He lives in Gerlach.

Mr. Cooper hales the BLM for being, "BLM is a very capable agency with dedicated employees who are qualified to carry out its mandated mission of multiple-use land management," but fails to report that there are local threats of line officers at said BLM who are closing access to regularly scheduled events.

The Black Rock NCA that Mr. Cooper touts is just one of those areas that OHV access was nealy completely removed. Areas that suffered far more damage from ranchers, mine, and utility interests than the OHV crowd.

Mr. Cooper, multi use planning requires inclusion of all individuals who hold stake in that area, whether they travel by the tread of Merril hiking boats, MTB tires, hooves of quadripeds, and turns of tires from OHV's.

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