Energy & Environment

Interior secretary rescinds wilderness protection order before leaving office

As one of his last official acts in the Trump administration, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt rescinded an Obama-era order that directs the department to protect wilderness areas.

The order, signed in 2010, directed the Bureau of Land Management to designate wilderness areas to promote “protection of backcountry areas where Americans recreate, find solitude, and enjoy the wild,” according to a press release sent by the agency at the time.

Bernhardt’s order, signed Tuesday, rescinds it.

“That order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement,” read the document signed by Bernhardt.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group, said the order can be quickly nixed by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), whom President Biden has nominated to serve as Interior secretary.

“Secretary Bernhardt is throwing sand in the gears on his way out the door. He hates wilderness so much that he’s signing orders just so Deb Haaland can issue them again the moment she’s sworn in. This is regulatory vandalism,” Weiss said.

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Another order signed by Bernhardt Tuesday redistributes money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, shifting funding from the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program.

Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association, called the move “an environmental injustice.”

“In issuing this secretarial order, they have chosen to ignore the bipartisan Congressional intent and unilaterally end the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, which is a venerated grant program that helps to connect people in urban areas to crucial outdoor spaces, such as parks and playgrounds,” she said in a statement. 

“This decision takes resources away from communities most in need of parks — especially communities of color and low-income communities.”

A press release from Interior does not address the ORLP program, saying that the order is “a direct result of the Trump-Pence Administration’s leadership and commitment to fostering cooperative stewardship and recreational opportunities for all Americans.”  

Tags Deb Haaland

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