Salazar: Interior will not enforce 'wild lands' policy

Late last year, Salazar issued a secretarial order detailing a “wild lands” program, which involves designating and managing certain public lands to protect their wilderness characteristics.

Western Republicans slammed the policy, arguing it was an effort to circumvent Congress’s authority and raising fears that it could be used to make lands off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling.

Lawmakers agreed to a Republican-backed rider to cut funding for the “wild lands” program through the end of fiscal year 2011 as part of high-stakes negotiations to prevent the government from shutting down.

Salazar’s memo is aimed at reassuring Republicans lawmakers that the Interior Department will not seek to enforce the policy.

Republicans praised the move Wednesday.

“Secretary Salazar has rightly recognized that Congress, and not the Department of the Interior, has the authority to designate wilderness areas; he has also recognized the importance of working with federal, state and local representatives in managing federal land,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said in a statement.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) echoed Lee’s statement.

“I am gratified that they appear to finally understand that arbitrarily restricting citizens’ use of our public lands and obstructing the development of domestic energy and other resources on those lands is the wrong thing to do, especially during an economic recession and without any input from Congress or local officials,” Hatch said.