In the Journal’s most recent article on Wilderness Study Areas, Keenan Ertel is quoted as saying, “Precluding people from using their public lands steps outside of their multiple-use intent.”
As the (now retired) lead author of the BLM’s 2012 Wilderness and Wilderness Study Area policies, I feel it is necessary to comment.
Leaving aside that wilderness does not preclude people from using the land, wilderness is multiple use.
There is a common misconception that “multiple use” refers to extractive industries and excludes conservation or preservation. “Multiple use” is defined in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and has two important components relevant to wilderness. First, “the use of some land for less than all of the resources.” Beyond recreation potential, wilderness areas can protect clean water and air, safeguard wildlife and cultural resources and even allow livestock grazing. Wilderness is every bit as “multiple use” as a coal mine – which provides for none of these.
In addition, “multiple use” management decisions are made “not necessarily (for) the combination of uses that will give the greatest economic return.” The short-term economic benefit of an area might be greater if subject to extractive manipulation than if preserved as wilderness, but that does not mean its preservation is not multiple use.
Commissioner Jim Candelaria cited a 1991 BLM decision to not recommend wilderness study areas here for wilderness designations. Though the nation-wide recommendations were sent to the President in 1991, the inventories they were based on were mostly conducted between 1978 and 1980 – 40 years ago. Since then, resource conditions have changed; our understanding, use, and management of mineral resources has changed; and public opinion has changed. As then-BLM Director Bob Abbey testified before Congress in July 2011, “If these suitability recommendations were made today, many of them would undoubtedly be different.”
Congress has recognized the limitations of the 1991 recommendations: an analysis I did for the Bureau in 2010 found that over 40% of the BLM Wilderness areas designated by Congress were wholly or partially deemed “not suitable” in the 1991 report.
We should debate whether areas in Montezuma County belong in the National Wilderness Preservation System. But the debate should be rooted in a complete and fact-based understanding of wilderness law and policy, not misinformed suppositions.