PLNR-10-1-Wilderness Designations

Incorporates and replaces the following resolutions –

    • PLNR-99-1, Wilderness Designations, Local Government Involvement
    • PLNR-01-1, Proposed Wilderness Designations
    • PLNR-02-2, Wilderness, BLM Inventory Handbook

WHEREAS Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964 “to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes” and specified that only Congress has the authority to designate Wilderness Areas; and

WHEREAS the designation of public lands as Wilderness is the most restrictive of all federal land designations and severely limits the opportunities for the public’s use of their lands, as well as the local economic benefits associated with those uses; and

WHEREAS the exclusive nature of Wilderness designations can make such designations highly controversial because they represent a value judgment that can pit one public user group against another; and

WHEREAS the Federal Land Policy and Management Act provided the authority for the designation of Wilderness Study Areas (43 U.S.C. §1782 [Sec. 603]), but that
authority expired in 1993; and

WHEREAS the U.S. Department of Interior’s “wildlands” policy issued in December 2010 was reversed in May 2011 after Congress and several local and State governments challenged whether the policy was in compliance with the Wilderness Act; and

WHEREAS the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) subsequently issued an instruction memorandum in July 2011 requiring offices to conduct and maintain inventories regarding the presence of “lands with wilderness characteristics” and consider these lands in land use plans and NEPA actions and updated their manual (BLM Manual Section 6310) for identifying areas with wilderness characteristics to reflect this new policy; and

WHEREAS FLPMA’s requirement to keep a current inventory of public lands, 43 U.S.C. §1711, does not provide any authority for the protection of lands identified as “wilderness characteristics” through the inventory; wilderness and “wilderness characteristics” are not a use of public lands under FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. §1702; and the sole authority related to wilderness and wilderness characteristics in FLMPA is in 43 U.S.C. §1782; and

WHEREAS BLM is creating a new category of lands not defined or provided for in FLPMA or BLM’s implementing regulations and by designating “Lands with Wilderness Characteristics” BLM is in essence creating de-facto Wilderness Study Areas or wilderness in violation of its authority; and

WHEREAS areas identified as having wilderness characteristics would be closed to mineral leasing via land-use plan revisions while FLPMA requires the Secretary of the Interior to provide notice of proposed withdrawal of 5,000 acres or more of federal land from minerals development in the Federal Register and conduct hearings regarding the withdrawal; and

WHEREAS the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) has consistently held that the non-impairment standard does not apply to non-WSA lands, such as lands with wilderness characteristics and citizen proposed wilderness areas (i.e., wilderness inventory units and lands with wilderness characteristics are not subject to the restrictions on surface disturbance activities afforded WSAs); and

WHEREAS several local and State governments in the western U.S. have issued legal challenges to the Department of Interior’s and BLM’s “wilderness study areas”, “wildlands” and “lands with wilderness characteristics” directives and policies as being non-compliant with the Wilderness Act and FLPMA; and

WHEREAS local communities are most familiar with the current and historic uses of proposed wilderness, and the established use rights associated with those lands; and

WHEREAS it may be appropriate to designate public lands as Wilderness where strong local support exists for such a designation and where such a designation is necessary to protect the natural values of the landscape,


  • Wilderness designation must adhere to the statutory requirements of the Wilderness Act in that only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness.
  • BLM and other federal land-management agencies must adhere to the requirements of the Wilderness Act and FLPMA and not create new wilderness land-use classifications.
  • Wilderness legislation should be carried by the Representative of the Congressional District which contains the land in consideration, and should only be passed with the support of both of the state’s U.S. Senators.
  • Wilderness legislation should only be introduced after a thorough vetting by all stakeholder interests within the resident communities – including formal hearings on the proposed legislation within each county that includes part of the proposed Wilderness Area, and should only be passed with strong support of the County Commissioners representing the most immediately affected counties.
  • Wilderness legislation should avoid all known conflicts within the proposed Wilderness boundaries (including but not limited to existing water rights, mineral leases, and grazing permits) and should provide for reasonable access (including mechanized/motorized access) to maintain existing compatible uses.
  • Prior to the designation of any Wilderness, all other less-restrictive land conservation designations should be considered as alternatives (such as National Conservation Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concerns, National Recreation Areas) which may accomplish the conservation objectives but limit use conflicts.
  • Compatible uses of Wilderness (e.g. livestock grazing) must be allowed to adopt new technologies (e.g. water ponds, cross-fencing) to stay economically viable.
  • Current compatible uses within proposed Wilderness Areas should be maintained into perpetuity after the Wilderness designation by allowing for the transfer of those uses to future users.
  • Wilderness designations should respect Colorado water law and must have the consent of local water and elected officials.

Adopted 4/9/10

Amended September 7, 2012


Resolution in PDF Format