Spending Bill Reaffirms Restriction on “Wild Lands” Designations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today unveiled language included in the 2012 Interior spending bill that blocks federal land management agencies from creating new wilderness areas without first getting Congressional approval.

"It should be no surprise to the administration that Congress is again reconfirming that the executive branch does not have authority to set aside lands in wilderness-like classifications," Murkowski said. “This should be a clear message to the administration that it cannot usurp the authority of Congress.”

The provision reaffirms language Congress passed last year prohibiting the use of congressionally authorized funds to administer Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s order that federal land management agencies could administratively set aside lands in wilderness-like classifications.

Murkowski said the secretary’s order amounted to an attempt to circumvent the law and could be especially detrimental in Alaska, where the federal government owns two-thirds of the land.

“The law is clear: Congress retains sole authority and responsibility to designate lands for inclusion in the National Wilderness System,” Murkowski said. “That’s how I believe it should be and I will work to ensure that the current ban on creating wilderness – by any name – unilaterally by this or any other administration remains in place.”

The Wilderness Act provides that only Congress may set aside public lands as wilderness. Further, in 1980, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which was intended to provide sufficient protection for the nation’s interest in protecting the scenic, natural, cultural and environmental values of the public lands in Alaska. ANILCA explicitly provides that additional lands in Alaska could be set aside as wilderness only with the express approval of Congress.