Rules on management of wilderness areas changed

Religious ceremonies, rock climbing, wheelchairs OK, parachuting, power tool use nixed

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a final rule revising and updating management regulations for the congressionally-designated wilderness areas the organization manages.

Rock climbing and Native American religious ceremonies are acknowledged as legitimate uses of wilderness areas under the new set of rules.

Rock climbers do not need permits to climb in the areas. The BLM is asking climbers not to use power drills to install permanent fixed anchors, but hasn't made any regulations banning the anchors, said Tom Gorey, a BLM spokesperson.

Native Americans can now use wilderness land for traditional religious ceremonies, but tribes are not granted exclusive rights. BLM land managers have the authority under other regulations and federal laws to temporarily close an area to protect or accommodate religious rights.

Other new regulations that were published in the Federal Register and apply to the 5.5 million acres of BLM-managed wilderness area but not to Wilderness Study Areas. They include:

Sailboat, sailboards, parachutes, game carriers, carts, wagons and similar devices of mechanical transport cannot be used in wilderness areas. The rule includes chainsaws, power drills and motor vehicles in its definition of motorized equipment. The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits the use of mechanical transport and motorized equipment in wilderness areas.

The rule also implements the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 by allowing wheelchair use in wilderness areas.

Existing prohibition against the holding of competitive events, such as foot or watercraft races, in wilderness areas is retained.

Existing provisions prohibit aircraft from landing in wilderness areas or from dropping skydivers or materials into these areas.

Miners with valid existing rights may carry on certain activities to support their mining claims consistent with BLM requirements to protect wilderness values.

Grazing will continue in wilderness areas at the level that existed at the time Congress designated these areas as wilderness.

Access is ensured to owners of non-federal lands that are completely surrounded by BLM-managed wilderness areas. The BLM will approve access routes that existed when Congress designated the surrounding area as wilderness. If such a route did not exist, the BLM will approve non-motorized access to the inholding.

"Wilderness areas are among the crown jewels of America's public lands," said Sylvia V. Baca, the BLM's acting director. "This final rule will help the BLM preserve and protect these national treasures. This rule brings the BLM's wilderness regulations up to date with several legislative, policy and technological changes that have occurred since 1985 the last time our agency issued wilderness regulations."

Copies of the final wilderness management rule can be obtained at the BLM's state offices or accessed on the BLM's Web site, www.blm.gov, or the Federal Register's Web site, www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html.

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