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Interior assures Bishop: No defacto wilderness

June 23, 2011
The Salt Lake Tribune, Matt Canham

Rep. Rob Bishop wanted and received a face-to-face assurance that the Interior Department was not going to designate public land in Utah as wilderness without local support.

That agreement came in a conversation Wednesday between Bishop, the chairman of the public lands subcommittee, Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey and David Hayes, deputy secretary of Interior, which Bishop described as "fairly positive."

"They clearly told us in their minds that the issue of wild lands is dead," he said. "I take them at their word that they are going to work with us on any wilderness designation."

This comes after Utah lawmakers and the Obama administration sparred over a wild land policy that would have allowed Interior to unilaterally protect lands from development or drilling. After getting push back from Congress, Interior rescinded the policy.

Kate Kelly, a spokeswoman at Interior, said the department "is committed to building consensus around locally-supported initiatives and working with Members to advance their priorities for wilderness designations in their states and districts."

Abbey and Hayes told Bishop they would continue identifying land with wilderness characteristics as part of an ongoing inventory of public lands and would use that information as part of future proposals.