SALT LAKE CITY — The national director of the Bureau of Land Management will be in Salt Lake City later this week at the request of Gov. Gary Herbert to address concerns over a controversial decision regarding "wild lands" designations.
"There was no policy discussion with the state," Herbert said. "There was no formal notice this was being considered. The federal government suddenly, administratively locked up additional Utah lands without even consulting us and we want an explanation."
Bob Abbey will meet Friday with members of Herbert's Balanced Resource Council at 2 p.m. in Room 210 of the Senate Building at the Utah state Capitol complex.
Herbert and some members of Utah's Congressional delegation expressed dismay last month when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced an order that charted a new course for the BLM to designate lands within its purview as "wild."
Critics said the order contradicted a 2003 settlement agreement between the head of the Department of the Interior at that time and then-Gov. Mike Leavitt.
In that agreement, both officials acknowledged that any new designations of wilderness study areas would be decisions that have since expired and such classifications should come through congressional legislation.
Herbert and others are concerned that the policy shift by the U.S. Department of Interior could jeopardize any negotiations that have occurred on ground regarding new wilderness proposals in Utah.
"We need to better understand what this decision means. It has real potential to forestall Utah's ongoing efforts to resolve the wilderness issue," Herbert said.
Prior to being eliminated at the state GOP convention, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, had been helping facilitate compromises in several areas of the state regarding new wilderness designations, particularly in San Juan County. Local officials are still hoping something can be done through federal legislation.
The December announcement of the "wild lands designation" by Salazar was more fuel for Utah critics, who are still smarting over rumors that surfaced earlier last year due to a "leaked" Interior department document.
In that draft paper, a number of possible places were outlined as appropriate for new national monument consideration, leading Utah policy makers to flail at Salazar, accusing him of creating wilderness by fiat.
Salazar's staff denounced the document as nothing more than preliminary, but at a subsequent meeting with Herbert and his Balanced Resource Council, the Interior secretary was quick to offer assurances.
At that time, Salazar said land use decisions involving wilderness creation were best made with local input and through involving those closest to the impacts.