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Donít relax on wildlands

Itís cheering to see that sometimes Washington will listen to the people ó and heed their demands.

Last week, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a turnabout on a controversial order that gave the Bureau of Land Management the power to designate millions of acres of federal land as ďwildlandsĒ that could be considered for designation as wilderness areas. Potentially, that could have made wide swaths of Utah off-limits to development.

The move raised a ruckus here, and rightly so. The government already controls two-thirds of Utahís land. Under the Obama administration, that has meant little or no use by the state of the natural resources available here. Further tightening the D.C. stranglehold on these valuable assets would be intolerable.

Adding to the furor was that Salazarís move violated an agreement made in 2003 by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt and the feds, which gave such authority to Congress, not the executive branch. Utahns believe a deal is a deal.

Uintah County and the Utah Association of Counties were the first entities to challenge Salazarís edict in December. Gov. Gary Herbert also prompted a lawsuit against the Interior Department. Good for all of them. Itís never easy to challenge the federal government, but Utah leaders didnít flinch.

Congress also helped with a budget resolution to cut off funding necessary to put the wildlands into effect.

(That, by the way, is a lesson for those who quail at budget battles in Washington. Such conflicts give conservatives cudgels that can be useful in other areas.)

So what happens now with the federal lands? Salazar says his agency will work with Congress and other stakeholders to list areas that might merit the wilderness tag. Thatís a more reasonable stance. Environmentalists may howl, but now itís possible to work out solutions.


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              Page Updated: Saturday June 11, 2011 02:12 AM  Pacific

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