Obama abandons wilderness protection plan

Thursday, June 2, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Under pressure from Congress, the Obama administration is backing away from a plan to make millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West eligible for federal wilderness protection.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a memo Wednesday that his agency will not designate any of those public lands as "wild lands."

Instead Salazar said officials will work with members of Congress to develop recommendations for managing millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Associated Press.

Salazar's decision reverses an order issued in December to restore eligibility for wilderness protection to millions of acres of public lands. That policy overturned a Bush-era approach that opened some Western lands to commercial development.

A budget deal approved by Congress prevented the Interior Department from spending money to implement the wilderness policy. GOP lawmakers complained that the plan would circumvent Congress' authority and could be used to declare a vast swath of public land off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling.

Republican governors in Utah, Alaska and Wyoming, filed suit to block the plan, saying it would hurt their state's economies by taking federal lands off the table for mineral production and other uses.

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