An outcrop of the Green River Formation along the White River, in Uintah County, Utah, reveals the landscape's wild and scenic qualities. But county officials don't want the Interior Department placing additional restrictions on oil and gas development in the region. Photo courtesy of the Utah Geological Survey.
The Interior Department's decision to extend the highest level of protection to millions of acres of pristine federal land across the West has sparked howls of protests from Republican lawmakers and shouts of praise among environmentalists.
But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Dec. 22, 2010, executive order to protect wide swaths of federal land with "wilderness characteristics" may be most acutely felt in northeast Utah's Uintah County, which has fought tooth and nail against what it perceives as the Interior Department's heavy hand with respect to public lands management.
The county, with support from the Utah Association of Counties, sued the Obama administration last October, claiming the Interior Department had thwarted a policy established by the George W. Bush administration that promised federally owned parcels would not be afforded wilderness-level protection unless they were formally designated by Congress.
The policy, forged in a 2003 agreement between then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), also held that the Bureau of Land Management would not designate additional wilderness study areas in Utah, or manage roughly 2.6 million acres of proposed wilderness as de facto wilderness (Greenwire, Dec. 23, 2010).