Obama Administration Steps Up Efforts to Protect Public Lands

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Thursday, the Obama administration stepped up its efforts to protect public lands.  The Bureau of Land Management, which manages about 40 million acres in Alaska, will look at those lands for wilderness value.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a news conference at an outdoor equipment store in Denver that he was rescinding a 2003 order by his predecessor, Gale Norton, that stopped the BLM from considering any more wilderness without action from Congress.

Salazar said he’s not trying to take any power away from Congress, but federal land managers need to have the ability to manage what he is referring to as “wild lands,” which are valued by outdoors enthusiasts, tourists, photographers and others.

Secretary Norton’s “no more wilderness” order was issued to settle a lawsuit by Utah’s then-Governor, Mike Leavitt.

It’s not yet clear if Utah or any other state will try to revive the lawsuit.

Salazar’s order allows BLM to consider “wild land” management after going through a public process of land designation.  The agency manages 264 million acres nationwide.   One of the biggest pieces of BLM land in Alaska is the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where the oil and gas industry holds a number of leases, and at least one well complex is already sending oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.   Salazar says there does not have to be a conflict there.

Salazar said the NPRA would be reviewed for wilderness values just like any other BLM land.

BLM lands in Alaska include a lot of mining claims, the Denali Highway, the Iditarod Trail and many other areas.

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