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Utah Sues Interior Secretary Over 'Wild Lands' Order

Claiming that it will harm its economy and set a bad national policy, Utah filed a lawsuit in federal court at the end of April seeking to block an order by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that created a "wild lands" designation on public lands. Salazar's order (3310) was issued in late December.

The state contends that the order would hinder its attempts to support both resource development and outdoor recreation on public lands.

Utah has called the order "procedurally flawed" as it seeks to depart from usual Bureau of Land Management (BLM) practices in creating such a designation and supersedes existing land-use management plans.

Gov. Gary Herbert has complained that in issuing the order last December the Interior Department sought no input from him or other governors. "The order undid years of collaborative and costly work," Herbert said.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the state's lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah in Salt Lake City to declare Salazar's order null and void, set aside BLM manuals related to the order and prevent the Interior Department from managing public lands in what the state alleges is "a manner contrary to existing BLM Resource Management Plans."

"Federal law makes it clear that [a] wilderness designation is reserved to Congress, not the executive branch, and the time has passed to designate additional wilderness," according to Utah Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow, who noted that his state sees Order 3310 as an attempt to "unlawfully create" added wilderness areas in violation of an existing settlement agreement between Interior and Utah.

"The Department of Interior by its own admission had no statutory authority for this order," Herbert said. "We're seeking judicial relief so we can pick up our work where we left off rather than letting the federal government arbitrarily change the rules at the end of the game."

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