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Commissioner testifies against wildlands order

Commissioner testifies against wildlands order

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith wants Secretarial Order 3310 to become history before it is implemented.

"What it does is lock up additional lands to create de facto wilderness areas that will reduce federal land being managed, and that affects jobs in our communities," Smith said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

"This is just a back-door attempt to create more wilderness areas," he added.

Smith is in Washington this week and will testify today before the House Natural Resources Committee, which is holding a hearing on the order signed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in December.

Known as the Wildlands Initiative, the order affirmed that the Interior's U.S. Bureau of Land Management has the authority to designate "wild lands" areas with wilderness characteristics and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

Among those joining Smith in testifying against the order in the hearing dubbed, "The Impact of the Administration's Wild Lands Order on Jobs and Economic Growth," was Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, both Republicans.

In a prepared statement, committee Chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the order circumvents Congress' statutory authority to establish wilderness areas.

"Under this policy, the public's access to public lands can be limited or halted entirely — impacting our economy, jobs, recreation opportunities and American energy production," he said in a prepared statement. "Millions of acres of multi-use land in the West are at risk of being locked-up if the Administration carries out this policy."

But Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, an environmental watchdog group which seldom speaks out in defense of the BLM, believes the order would have little local impact.

"It would have such a small effect on land in Jackson County that it is essentially a nonissue," he said, estimating its impact would be on less than 1 percent of the federal land base in the county.

Moreover, he said, the order by Salazar restores a policy that had been in place for decades before the Bush administration undid it.

"This is getting multiple use back into the BLM framework — this was BLM policy for years," he said.

Although Vaile felt the order would have minimal local impact, he noted that protecting roadless and wilderness areas helps retain the quality of life in a given area, preserving clean water and air.

"Whatever wild lands we have in Jackson County ought to be protected," he said, adding that he would like to see Smith's focus be on restoration forestry.

A spokesman for the BLM's Medford District said last month that it's unknown how the Wildlands Initiative order could specifically affect the district because no guidance has yet been issued for the directive.

In January, 48 U.S. representatives and nine U.S. senators signed a letter urging Salazar to withdraw the order. The group, which included U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., indicated the order gave the BLM the right to administratively create "de facto" wilderness through monument creations.

During a public gathering in Medford early last month, Walden expressed concern that could include much of the proposed 600,000 Siskiyou Crest National Monument in southwest Oregon and far northwestern California.

Smith noted he would in fact be speaking out for restoration forestry while in D.C., specifically for an 80,000-acre BLM pilot project in the Applegate Valley. He said his calculations show the Wildlands Initiative could impact some 16,000 acres of BLM land in the county.

"We are not hurting for locked-up lands in our county," he said, noting the county includes or borders on three national forests and one national park, all of which contain lands with wilderness characteristics.

Concern over the high unemployment in the region prompted him to speak out, said Smith who is in Washington representing the Jackson County Board of Commissioners as well as the Association of O&C Counties as an executive board member.

"We have an unemployment rate now that is higher than other parts of the country," he said. "This (order) can only lead to more unemployment and more economic misery."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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