Gov. Parnell Blasts Federal Plan to Add Protection to BLM Land
Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday blasted the Obama administration's push to strengthen protection of wild lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Original article posted Jan. 29, 2011
JUNEAU - Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday blasted the Obama administration's push to strengthen protection of wild lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Parnell called the U.S. Department of the Interior's new wild lands policy an end run around 31-year-old promises that federal land managers would not slap protectionist labels on wilderness in Alaska.
"I will not allow such disregard for Alaska and its citizens to stand unchallenged," Parnell said in a statement that followed a two-page letter and six pages of comments to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The comments come a month after Salazar announced the policy. The policy promises special protection for public land managed by the BLM that has wilderness character. Unlike land designated official wilderness, areas classified as wild lands would not require congressional approval.
The BLM has not in the past month tagged any land in Alaska as wild lands. Salazar's December announcement said the same public process used in other land-use planning would apply under the new policy - the agency would consider a designation, solicit public comments, issue a draft plan and then collect more comments prior to a final decision.
The BLM said on its website it is mindful of the balance struck by the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the wild lands policy would allow designations in Alaska "only through the BLM's comprehensive land use planning processes, which provides for robust public comment and involvement."
A BLM official in Alaska declined to respond to the governor's comments and said comment would need to come from the interior secretary.
Salazar's December announcement addressed an eight-year absence, as he put it, of "comprehensive national wilderness policy."
The policy is too new, with details still in draft form, for the Fairbanks-based Northern Alaska Environmental Center to cement a formal position, said Pam Miller, an arctic specialist there. But she said the center generally likes the policy's direction. She said appropriate land management for BLM property in Alaska would consider all the wilderness values associated with public land, including the value of ecosystems, recreational use and subsistence. Miller said Salazar issued a solid justification for considering those values in the wild lands planning process.
"Ending the Norton prohibition" - former Interior Secretary Gale Norton - "on evaluating BLM lands in Alaska for wilderness value and potential protection into the future is a positive step," Miller said.
Parnell charged the department with deciding to label almost 87 million acres of federal land in Alaska as wild lands, and said it would "allow the federal government to create more wilderness in Alaska without congressional oversight."
He said it would limit access to public land and, by threatening to constrain resource development, erode Alaska's potential for economic development.
Parnell said past interior secretaries have respected ANILCA's declaration that enough land had been set aside for conservation in the state. ANILCA established about 57 million acres of official wilderness in the state, much of it within the greater boundaries of new federal parks and refuges established by the act.
Parnell called Salazar's month-old plan a sweeping initiative made without appropriate consultation with states, saying tens of millions of acres could be rendered de facto wilderness.
"The order is, for all practical purposes, an end run around ANILCA, which I predict will lead to egregious social and economic consequences for Alaskans," Parnell said. His comments suggest the policy "sets entirely new standards, challenges conventional wisdom regarding management of multiple-use lands, and raises legal and policy questions."
The federal policy said wildland inventories will be used to recognize land with "wilderness characteristics" and the bureau would then, absent specific allowances for appropriate activity, apply protections. The BLM would prohibit projects that don't aim to protect the area's wilderness characteristics.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.