Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looks like a Duck

The latest efforts for the DC Lame Duckers to pass another public lands omnibus bill have been abandoned. However, as is often the case with politics, the good news only lasts until the next line. The latest word is that the bill will be broken into smaller pieces and packaged with smaller bills for passage. I found it odd that the omnibus bill would be introduced and then so quickly allowed to die. Then came Secretarial Order 3310 from Ken Salazar on December 23 2010, Protecting Wilderness Characteristics on Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Sect. 1 Purpose. This secretarial Order affirms that the protection of the wilderness characteristics of public lands is a high priority for the Bureau of Land Management, and is an integral component of its multiple use missions. The order provides direction to the BLM regarding its obligation to maintain wilderness resource inventories on a regular and continuing basis for public lands under its jurisdiction. It further directs the BLM to protect wilderness characteristics through land use planning and project-level decisions unless the BLM determines, in accordance with the order, that impairment of wilderness characteristics is appropriate and consistent with other application requirements of the law and other resource management considerations.

In a news release from the BLM it stated, “Secretarial Order 3310 directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), based on the input of the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process, to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "Wild Lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.”

To sum the Secretarial Order up, what the BLM can now do is manage areas like Wilderness but under the new name “Wild Lands” but not have to have a congressional act to do so. There are mild references within this order to the idea of a public process, consistent with other applicable requirements of law, however much can be read into the lack of upfront and clear-cut detail.

In a post titled Thinking Locally I talked about bringing the debate back home. This would be so we could work the issues out with the local land managers and residents who know and use the area. This would allow a plan to develop through best practices and common sense not special interest lobby and political favor. However rebranding one bureaucratic label with another to expedite a one-sided agenda isn’t exactly progress. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Wilderness under a different name is still Wilderness.

I have a suspicion that the lack of bureaucratic labels is not the problem the BLM faces. Maybe the ineffective execution of the policies we already have and the hijacking of the political process by special interest is where we need to focus our reform. If you are in a hole and cannot get out, the first thing to do is quit digging. Developing new tools may seem like the easy way to solve a problem however if we do not even use the tools we have, more tools are not going to help.  Creating a new Wild Lands designation isn’t going to do the work the BLM needs to do which is to uphold their multiple use mission and manage our lands responsibly.

It is most likely my naive hope that there is justice and objectivity left in the world that pushes me to try and find the good in Secretarial Order 3310.  The order is vague and there is plenty of room for interpretation of what is, or can be a wilderness characteristics, but let’s be optimistic. I will hope that the fair and transparent public process will really be so. I will hope that this will bring the debate home from Washington and back here with the people who know the country, know the issues and have spent generations being stewards of the land. Let’s start this New Year off hoping and working for better public lands management.