Thursday, December 23, 2010

Secretary Salazar Takes a Swing at Bad Policy

Hey, it's really pretty simple. Habitat equals opportunity. Without one, you really don't have the other (unless you're dunking worms in a pay-by-the-pound trout pond or "hunting" behind a high fence, that is). Fortunately, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar understands this most basic of equations–today, he announced that the Bureau of Land Management would once again consider high-quality federal land for potential wilderness designation.

The Alpine Triangle in Colorado–some of the best BLM
land in the country.
For clarity, Salazar can't actually create new wilderness areas–only Congress can do that, and lately, that's no easy task. But Salazar can direct the BLM to once again identify the best of its 245 million acres of public land and designate these fine chunks of federal real estate as "wilderness study areas." This practice was trashed in 2003 when then-Secretary of Interior Gale Norton caved to industry and the extreme political right–she decided she knew more about the BLM's land than the folks on the ground and decided then and there that no new WSAs would be created. Period.

Kudos to Salazar for scrapping that wrong-headed idea. In the "habitat equals opportunity" department, anglers and hunters are among the first to be appreciative of the move.

"Whether they are called wilderness study areas, roadless areas or wilderness, sportsmen know that the best habitat for fish and wildlife and the best hunting and angling opportunity is found in the backcountry," said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

Indeed, the "controversy" surrounding wilderness (and wilderness study areas, for that matter) is largely due to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. My guess is that you'll hear a few folks from the foam-at-the-mouth crowd talking about being "locked out" by wilderness, or that Salazar's new policy restricts their "access" to public lands. That's simply not true. In fact, very little–if anything–will change. It would be largely inconceivable for Salazar or BLM Director Bob Abbey to approve a new WSA that would alter existing uses, including those designated for motorized access.

But what this new practice will do (and pay attention, hunters and anglers) is identify the very best of what's left and protect our access to some of the best fishing and hunting left on public lands in this country. You won't be locked out, but instead, the goodness that accompanies intact habitat will be locked in–you know, things like excellent water quality, diverse and native flora and fauna and high-quality sporting opportunity.

For that, Secretary Salazar earns a pat on the back. Good work, sir.

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