WASHINGTON (AP) -- A coalition of various groups is petitioning Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to assess the wilderness potential of 160 million acres of roadless Bureau of Land Management land across the country, including a big chunk of Alaska.
The coalition, made up of almost 100 conservation, business, religious and sportsmen's groups, announced its petition drive Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Wilderness Society president Bill Meadows said an inventory is especially needed in Alaska.
''The administration under President Reagan--Secretary (James) Watt, specifically--prohibited the Bureau of Land Management from doing that inventory for wilderness-quality lands in Alaska. And so, that work has never been done,'' Meadows said. ''We have millions of acres of lands in Alaska that have never been inventoried at all for wilderness characteristics. We believe it really important at this stage; this could really contribute to the land conservation legacy that President Clinton is building up.''
Cindy Shogan of The Alaska Wilderness League said the BLM needs to take a thorough look at nearly all of the 87 million acres of land it controls in the state.
''We would like them to look at all the lands they manage,'' Shogan said. ''Some of them will be easy to drop off, like the lands near the pipeline. But since the inventory has never been done, we want to inventory as much of the pie as possible.''
Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski scoffed at the idea of setting off more of Alaska as wilderness.
''What have we got-58 million acres of wilderness in Alaska?'' he said. ''How much is enough?''
The coalition groups want Secretary Babbitt to use his administrative powers to temporarily protect areas that might qualify as wilderness. And they would like to see Congress eventually give those areas wilderness status. But that's unlikely if control of Congress remains in the hands of Republicans, who believe too much land is already locked up.
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