Recasting Wilderness as Open for Business
"The sculpted buttes of Wild Horse Mesa, the vast escarpment of the Book Cliffs and the soaring ramparts of Upper Desolation Canyon near here have become a prime battleground in the Bush administration's campaign to curb wilderness protection throughout the country.
In 1999, the federal government acknowledged the unique character of the area, where 150 million years of the earth's geologic history unfolds and the forces of nature continue to shape the rugged landscape. The Bureau of Land Management put more than 440,000 acres off-limits to industrial development.
The protection was short-lived.
Within four years, the area was opened to oil and gas exploration. Under the Bush administration, 2.6 million acres of Utah land that had been shielded from development was suddenly open for business.
The actions were part of a sweeping policy shift by Secretary of Interior Gale A. Norton with implications far beyond Utah. Not only does the new policy cancel protection of the Utah land, it withholds the interim safeguards traditionally applied to areas with wilderness potential until Congress decides whether to make them part of the national wilderness system.
But what most distinguishes the administration's position is its claim that under applicable law the Interior Department is barred — forever — from identifying and protecting wild land the way it has for nearly 30 years..."
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