In a victory for off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders nationwide, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has reversed his position on his controversial new Wild Lands policy, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) reports.
In an announcement made June 1, Salazar said the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wouldn’t designate any Wild Lands, which would have been managed as if they had received the restrictive Wilderness land-use designation from Congress.
Instead, Salazar said the BLM, which is a part of the Interior Department, will work in collaboration with members of Congress and others to identify public land that may be appropriate candidates for congressional protection under the Wilderness Act.
"We will focus our effort on building consensus around locally supported initiatives and working with members [of Congress] to advance their priorities for Wilderness designations in their states and districts," he said.
Rob Dingman, AMA president and CEO, said he was pleased by the news but cautioned that OHV riders must remain on guard.
"This is a major victory for motorcyclists and all-terrain vehicle riders and others concerned about appropriate access to public land," Dingman said. "But we must remain vigilant. Anti-access groups will continue pushing for legislation to inappropriately close off millions of acres of public land to OHVs. Not only are BLM lands under attack by these groups, but U.S. Forest Service land as well.
"I want to thank all the AMA members and others who attended meetings and contacted their federal lawmakers to oppose the Wild Lands policy," he added. "Your voices helped put pressure on Secretary Salazar to convince him to abandon his ill-conceived Wild Lands policy."
In December, the AMA and OHV enthusiasts won an important battle for responsible riding on public land when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped his effort to pass a massive omnibus public lands bill that would have inappropriately designated millions of acres of public land as Wilderness, barring OHVs.
But then just days later, on Dec. 22, Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3310 creating the Wild Lands land-use designation that essentially allowed BLM officials to manage public land as if it had received a Wilderness designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval. This new policy was widely expected to restrict or eliminate responsible OHV use in the affected areas, and was seen to be orchestrated by anti-access groups to pull an end-run around Congress.
It also was expected to have a far-reaching impact because the BLM manages about 245 million acres of public land nationwide, primarily in 12 western states.
Federal lawmakers have considered the Wild Lands policy a "land grab" and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority. Off-highway riders sporting "Stop the Land Grab" stickers produced by the AMA and distributed by the Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL) turned out in droves for a meeting of Utah’s Governor’s Council on Balanced Resources that featured BLM Director Bob Abbey trying to explain the new policy.
Several governors were very vocal in their opposition to the Wild Lands policy as well, including Wyoming’s Matthew Mead, Idaho’s C.L. "Butch" Otter and Utah’s Gary Herbert.
Because of opposition from powerful federal lawmakers, governors, the AMA and other OHV enthusiasts, the Wild Lands policy hit a major snag on April 15.
That’s when President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution — the funding measure that keeps the federal government operating through Sept. 30 – that included language barring the Interior Department from using any money to implement the Wild Lands land-use policy to manage land as if it had been designated as Wilderness.
A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are illegal. The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by Congress in 1964, but anti-access advocates have been abusing the legislative process to ban responsible OHV recreation on public land.