By Deanna Bockness
Prairie County Commissioner Dist. II
On December 23, 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey held a press conference in Denver, Colo. to announce Secretarial Order 3310, mandating the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to begin to inventory lands that have wilderness characteristics as described in Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 and Section 2(c) of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Secretary Ken Salazar’s directive does not require any congressional approval.
The Draft 6300-1 Wilderness Inventory Guideline has been issued to help identify “Lands with Wilderness Characteristics” and directs the BLM to survey its extensive holdings and designate these tracts as “Wild Lands.” Wild Lands Designations are separate from the Wilderness Study Areas that must be authorized by Congress.
To it’s inventory, BLM is considering roadless areas with over 5,000 acres of contiguous BLM lands and roadless areas of less than 5,000 acres if they are contiguous with lands which have been formally determined to have wilderness designation or Wilderness Study Areas.
The “Wild Lands” will be valued for primitive and unconfined recreation or solitude. In general, such lands would be banned from activities that disrupt habitat or destroy the solitude of the wild. Human intrusion would be limited on these landscapes and use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or mechanical transportation would not be allowed. Following such an inventory, the BLM can eliminate multiple-use management which may include cattle grazing, oil and gas drilling, mining activities, snowmobiling, and bicycling as “to protect wilderness characteristics.”
Quoted from the Wilderness Inventory Draft Guideline, “A trail system or convenient access is not essential for an outstanding opportunity for primitive and unconfined recreation. The absence of these facilities may increase opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation.”
According to the BLM guideline, “A route that was established or has been maintained solely by the passage of vehicles would not be considered a road, even if it is used on a relatively regular and continuous basis. Vehicle routes constructed by mechanical means but that are no longer being maintained by mechanical methods are not roads.”
If BLM concludes that lands that have “wilderness characteristics“, the bureau will consider these lands through an open, transparent, and public land use planning process, with full public participation and input. The arrogance of the BLM has proved different in other dealings with Prairie County.
The federal government is the largest land owner in Prairie County with ownership of 40.3 percent of the land. Compared with our surrounding counties, the federal government owns 16.2 percent of Custer County, 4.2 percent of Dawson County, 11.2 percent of Fallon County, 14.5 percent of McCone County, 23.4 percent of Garfield County, 4.7 percent of Wibaux and 4.7 percent of Yellowstone County. http://nris.mt.gov/montanafacts/county_own.asp
Now the federal government graciously pays PILT payments to help offset losses in property taxes due to these nontaxable federal lands within our boundaries. These payments do not provide the full tax equivalence of privately owned land and the formula is based on population, Congress funding limitations, and amount of federal land in the county. In 2010, Prairie County received 33 cents an acre for their 429,486 acres of federal land. ($141,592) Custer County received $2.36 per acre on their 330,652 acres ($779,269) and Yellowstone County received $2.38 per acre on their 78,235 acres ($185,829). Prairie County, like larger populated counties, also has to pay for public safety, public health, roads, and other county services. But we are discriminated against based on our smaller population. (Montana Association of Counties 2010 June PILT)
Prairie County 2009 population estimate was 1,108 inhabitants. We have an aging population base in the county with 25.3 percent who are 65 years or older. The average age of our citizen is 49.1 years. Without any kind of motorized or mechanical means and roads, how will our aging population, the elderly, and many others be able to visit or hunt or just enjoy the natural beauty of the federal lands in Prairie County? Our “wild lands” and “wilderness study area” will be only for the able-bodied athlete who will be able to hike several miles or someone who can ride many miles horseback. BLM’s guideline shows prejudice and indifference to fair access for the very young, the elderly and people with disabilities.
“Wild Lands” should not appear and “Roads” should not disappear with the stroke of the “Omnipotent BML Pen.” The taking of more land out of production is just another ploy to kill our rural economies that rely on ranchers and the oil and gas business.
Yes, some common sense protection of our public lands is necessary, but do not lock up accessible multi-use lands to create more “wild lands” that would not benefit Prairie County or its inhabitants.
Published Jan. 12, 2011