Protecting our landscape

Sacramento Bee: Three weeks after he took office, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne stopped the worst parts of a proposed overhaul of national parks management policies. Now he needs to do the same with a proposed overhaul of the Bureau of Land Management, announced to employees Nov. 30. The BLM manages three times as much public land as the National Park Service.
The resignation of BLM Director Kathleen Clarke last Thursday gives Kempthorne the opportunity to show that the BLM remains committed to its conservation mission.
The BLM is the steward of many of the great landscapes of the American West. In particular, the lands and waters of the National Landscape Conservation System have been called "hidden treasures of the American West." They include national monuments, national conservation areas, wilderness areas (and wilderness study areas), historic trails and wild and scenic rivers. These great Western landscapes are the sister system to our national parks, but more rugged. They are highly visited.
The proposed reorganization would dump a variety of unrelated programs into the National Landscape Conservation System, thus diluting resources that would be devoted to managing the system, which is already strained for resources. Worse, this latest reorganization plan was hatched in secret with no public review and no congressional oversight. No details have been publicly released, although recommendations were presented to employees Nov. 30 by live satellite broadcast.
Congress steps in
U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and 25 other House members called in a Dec. 20 letter for the BLM to halt the proposed reorganization until Congress examines the implications for the 26 million acre National Landscape Conservation System.
For much of its history, the BLM primarily managed its public lands under 19th-century traditions of logging, grazing, oil and gas drilling and mining. But today the agency also has another mission: managing premier conservation lands for their scientific, scenic, recreational, ecological, wildlife, historical and cultural values. Members of Congress should make sure that the reorganization is not simply a way for the BLM to back away from the conservation mission.
It is up to Kempthorne and Congress to ensure that the BLM remains committed to -- and can deliver on -- its mission to "conserve, protect and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations."
Most important, Congress will have to ensure that the proposed reorganization is not simply a pretext for reducing support for the BLM's hard-won conservation mandate.

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