Western Land Grab by Obama Administration | BLM to Regulate Public Use in New Directive

Wilderness Policy Sparks Western Ire

An Initiative to Expand Protection of Unspoiled Lands Has Drawn Opposition From Energy Companies and Ranchers

The Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, N.M., left, is one of the sites the Bureau of Land Management may seek to preserve under a new federal government initiative aiming to protect more public lands. Photo: A/P

Stephanie Simon|The Wall Street Journal

An Obama administration directive designed to preserve more public lands as wilderness is stirring anger in the West, where ranchers, sportsmen and energy companies say they could lose access to acreage they count on for their recreation and livelihood.

The regulatory change, initiated this month, directs the Bureau of Land Management to survey its vast holdings stretching between Alaska, Arizona, California and Colorado, in search of unspoiled back country. The agency can then designate these tracts—potentially millions of acres—as “wild lands.”

Protections will vary from site to site, but in general such lands will be shielded from activities that disrupt habitat or destroy the solitude of the wild, according to the Interior Department. That might mean banning oil drilling, uranium mining or cattle grazing in some areas. It also could mean restrictions on recreational activities, such as snowmobiling or biking.

“Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in announcing the policy shift late last week.

But the move, which did not require legislative approval, has drawn a hostile response from many in the West. “This harms economic growth,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who takes over next month as chair of the House subcommittee on public lands. “The West is being abused.”

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Western Land Grab By Obama Administration | BLM to Regulate Public Use in New Directive