The point of contention is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s order in December that the Bureau of Land Management (which oversees some 245 million acres, most of it in the West) should regularly inventory its lands, factoring in wild characteristics when making land-use decisions.
The idea, according to the Interior Department, is to “restore balance and clarity to the management of public lands by establishing common-sense policy for the protection of backcountry areas where Americans recreate, find solitude, and enjoy the wild.”
“Wild lands” would be designated after gathering public input, and unlike “wilderness” they could be given more (or less) protection without an act of Congress.
Old West vs. new West
The balance between environmental preservation and the use of natural resources – mining, logging, cattle grazing, oil and gas drilling, water – has been part of western history for a century or more, particularly since so much of the region is managed by federal agencies such as the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service.