Brian Maffly – The Salt Lake Tribune
Public lands » Suit blasts leasing reforms under Obama, but the feds say they are just giving proposals a good look.
Does the Bureau of Land Management have the discretion to preserve wilderness values even on lands that lie outside designated wilderness and wilderness study areas?
That question is under debate in yet another expensive lawsuit Utah is litigating against the federal government.
Joined by Uintah County and the Utah Association of Counties, the state alleges the BLM has imposed “de facto wilderness management” on unprotected land that agency inventories describe as having “wilderness characteristics.”
Such a policy has unlawfully foreclosed oil and gas leasing and rights-of-way applications on lands that should be open but are proposed for protection under the long-shot America’s Red Rocks Wilderness Act, according to attorney Constance Brooks, who argued Uintah County’s case Friday before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.
Uintah and other counties have been excluded from key management decisions, she said.
“If you change management criteria,” Brooks argued, “you have to amend the [land use] plan and that’s when you have to consult with local government. Something is out of whack here.” (…)