HELENA, Mont - The Obama administration is calling for 18 new wilderness and conservation area declarations in nine Western states, according to a report released Thursday by the secretary of the Interior that he hopes will result in new legislation from Congress establishing the new land protections.
Most of the areas proposed for new protections are in the West, where the administration previously came under fire for a scuttled proposal to name new land protections as part of a presidential declaration. The administration says the new proposals have "significant local support."
They include creation of San Juan Islands National Conservation Area in Washington, protections for New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte and 16 other sites. The areas have often been under consideration for advanced protection status for years, such as 406,000 acres of wilderness and conservation area proposed for the Sleeping Giant study along the Missouri River's scenic Holter Lake in Montana.
Bureau of Land Management director Bob Abbey said there is room for more wilderness even as the BLM pushes for more oil, gas and other energy development on its land. The agency pointed out that since 1964, only about 3.5 percent of the land it manages has been so far declared wilderness.
"Resource development and resource protection go hand in hand and, in fact, are part of a proud bipartisan tradition on which I hope Con-gress will build," Abbey said.
The proposal is the latest plank in what the administration is calling the America's Great Outdoor's initiative.
Representatives from all 50 states were asked to identify specific projects in which the federal government could form partnerships as part of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative. The conservation plans are meant to protect public land, encourage more people to enjoy the outdoors and bolster employment in tourism and recreation.
• CALIFORNIA: Proposals would expand wilderness in the Beauty Mountain Wilderness Study Area in Riverside and San Diego Counties, expand several desert wilderness sites to the northeast and declare protections for the English Ridge area in the north California's coastal range.
• COLORADO: The proposal expands land protections in the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area of the San Juan Mountains, the Castle Peak Wilderness Study Area, the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area and the Bull Gulch Wilderness Study Area.
• IDAHO: Proposes protections for the Jerry Peak and Jerry Peak West Wilderness Study Areas in the Boulder-White Clouds region of central Idaho.
• OREGON: Expands the Wild Rogue Wilderness.
• UTAH: Protects the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area, the Westwater Canyon Wilderness Study Area and the Mill Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Area.