Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Thursday directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to administratively designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "wild lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

The "wild lands" would differ from the already established "wilderness areas" in that they would be designated by an administrative fiat and could be changed administratively. Wilderness areas are voted on by Congress and require legislation to change.

The Interior Department order is directed at restoring "balance and clarity to the management of public lands by establishing common-sense policy for the protection of back country areas where Americans recreate, find solitude, and enjoy the wild," according to Secretarial Order 3310.

Outdoor recreation has taken a back seat to oil and natural gas development in past years, but the secretary's order puts it on equal footing, said Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment. Some people argue that it is a lock-up of public lands and a job killer.

Oil and gas will continue to be developed on these lands, Salazar said. He further noted that the agency will continue with its intensive efforts to promote renewable energy on public lands.

"Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike, and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf," said Salazar. "This policy ensures that the lands of the American public are protected for current and future generations to come."

BLM would develop the policy with input from the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process.

The BLM, which manages more land than any other federal agency, has not had any comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003, when the wilderness management guidance in the agency's handbook was revoked as part of a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other parties.

"The new wild lands policy affirms the BLM's authorities under the law -- and our responsibility to the American people -- to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee as part of our multiple use mission," said BLM Director Bob Abbey.

Secretarial Order 3310 also directs the BLM to maintain a current inventory of public lands with wilderness characteristics, which will contribute to the agency's ability to make balanced, informed land management decisions, consistent with its multiple-use mission.

The Secretarial Order does not change the management of existing wilderness study areas pending before Congress or congressionally designated units of the National Wilderness Preservation System. BLM may also still develop recommendations, with public involvement, regarding possible congressional designation of lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

BLM manages 245 million acres in the United States, including iconic American landscapes like Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, the Headwaters Forest Reserve's ancient redwood forest in California, and the Iditarod National Historic Trail in Alaska. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 11 western states and Alaska.

BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

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