On the eve of the release of the final management plan for the publicly-owned Headwaters Preserve, the Bush administration imposed a new policy on federal land managers in April, resulting from a settlement involving Utah wilderness land.
The new policy in effect nullifies guidelines by which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages land in its jurisdiction for wilderness characteristics. The directive says that only land set aside for wilderness review prior to 1993 would be eligible for special protection, reversing interim wilderness protection given to 2.6 million acres of BLM land in Utah by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. In response to the order, BLM Headwaters Project staff removed "Wilderness Study Area" language from the Management Plan for the Headwaters Preserve.
Though we have yet to see the final plan, BLM's "preferred alternative" in the draft Management Plan proposed 4,400 acres of Wilderness Study Area (WSA). (see Headwaters
Preserve Management Plan on BACH's website www.HeadwatersPreserve.org) BACH in its comments on the draft plan recommended 5,885 acres (all that qualify) or 80% of the 7400-acre Preserve receive WSA designation.
The Headwaters Preserve contains only 1,947 acres of untouched old growth at its core, with another 1,164 acres "mature" forest. The transfer to public hands in 1999 does allow for recovery of remaining land under BLM's restorations plans, and will ultimately provide high quality habitat for very imperiled species that once had refuge in the extensive old growth redwood forests of Humboldt county.
Wilderness Study Area (WSA) designation is less restrictive than Wilderness designation, but is the interim designation, since it can be done by an administrative decision by BLM and then be recommended for Wilderness designation, which requires an act of Congress. Prohibited in WSAs are "activities that would impair land suitability for wilderness designation". Generally, roadless areas 5000 acres or larger are considered for wilderness designation. Since the Headwaters Preserve must undergo restoration and road removal to return to a state where it could be considered for wilderness designation, WSA is thelogical stepping stone. It mandates that the land be managed for wilderness value.
What You Can Do
The final management plan for the Preserve is due to be released between August 29 and Sept. 5, opening a 30-day public comment period. You will be able to access the final plan on the website of the Arcata field office of the BLM: http://www.ca.blm.gov/arcata
Or you call the BACH office to get access to our copy. We will have a workshop during the comment period, and can help you interpret the plan and make detailed comments if you wish. It is so very important that the Preserve receive the best, longest-term wildlife habitat protection possible. Keeping the forest wild and providing for recovery of the species is what Headwaters activists have worked over 15 years for!
The address for comments will be Director (210), Bureau of Land Management, Attn. Brenda Williams, P.O. Box 66538, Washington D.C. 20035.