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The former head of the Bureau of Land Management accused the director of Utah's BLM office Tuesday of bowing to the "raw political power" of the Bush administration in preparing long-term plans for 11 million acres of red-rock desert in the state.
Jim Baca, who served as the national BLM boss during President Clinton's first term, warned that the agency's six resource-management plans expected to become final next month would lead to pillaging public lands in Utah.
The plans, Baca said, are "really, really disastrous. I think there is malfeasance involved in putting these things forward. . . . What's happened here is just raw political power that wasn't in the public interest."
During a teleconference, Baca - New Mexico's natural-resource trustee and a Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance board member - sharply criticized BLM state Director Selma Sierra.
Baca and representatives of The Wilderness Society, SUWA, the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance and a spokeswoman for Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., organized the news conference to call attention to the Bush administration's lame-duck push to finalize land plans that would open 80 percent of the 11 million acres to oil and gas drilling.
Mary Wilson, spokeswoman for the BLM's state office, dismissed Baca's charges.
"It's an outrageous overstatement," she said. "These plans have been in the making since 2001. Yes, now, they are finally moving off the dime - after some $35 million in taxpayer money."
The interest groups also accused the BLM of flouting federal law by not adequately surveying ancient cultural sites before designating 20,000 miles of motorized recreation routes.
Archaeologist Jerry Spangler pointed to a direct relationship between vehicle access and vandalism at cultural sites. The BLM has failed to inventory most of those routes for cultural resources, he said, which leaves the agency with no basis for deciding whether the sites could be damaged.
"What [Spangler] is talking about is virtually impossible and kind of silly, really," Wilson countered. Such surveys are taken at the environmental-impact-statement level, she said, not the broader level of the long-term plans.