Guest Commentary: Trump administration shuns voices behind local groundwork

While signing a flurry of orders on “energy independence,” greater sage grouse conservation and national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the administration intends to be a good neighbor and listen to state and local governments on managing our public lands.

However, so far the administration has been anything but neighborly when it comes to local concerns and input. It’s clear the administration is listening mainly to a select few, including the oil, gas and mining industries.

Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) were established by Congress under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The purpose is to utilize RACs as an advisory group to weigh in on policies as directed by staff and the Department of Interior. Unfortunately, under the new administration, executive orders have ignored the place of RACs as an advisory group. Public process is no longer of importance. That’s why I have resigned my position on the Bureau of Land Management’s Northwest Resource Advisory Council.

It was an honor to be appointed by former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to serve on the advisory council as an elected county official. Coloradans cherish our national public lands and want to see them managed responsibly so future generations can enjoy them. The BLM lands support our fish and wildlife populations, ranching and outdoor recreation that, according to a 2014 state report, annually generates more than $34 billion in economic benefits and supports roughly 313,000 jobs.

Being a member of a council that provided local, diverse input to the agency charged with stewarding our public lands was rewarding. The BLM created the volunteer advisory councils in the 1990s to serve as sounding boards. Members come from all backgrounds, including ranching, local governments, conservation, mining, oil and gas and outdoor recreation.

One of the advisory council’s most significant undertakings was contributing to the development of plans to conserve the greater sage grouse. The plans finalized in 2015 were the product of long negotiations among state and federal governments, conservation organizations, industry and agriculture. The plans, along with on-the-ground work by private landowners and communities, convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that sage grouse didn’t need to be placed on the endangered species list.

So, what has been the administration’s response to the good work by locals? In May, the BLM suspended Colorado’s four Resource Advisory Councils as part of a national review of the agency’s advisory boards and committees. The announcement came after Zinke insisted in a March 29 statement that too often “energy on public lands has been more of a missed opportunity and has failed to include consultation and partnership.” Then why suspend councils that provided consultation and partnership?

Next, Zinke ordered reviews of national monuments established under the Antiquities Act since 1996, saying people affected by the designations weren’t listened to. On the list was Colorado’s Browns Canyon, which was designated in 2015 after years of support from locals, sportsmen, conservationists, business owners and elected officials. Browns Canyon isn’t in danger of being reduced or rescinded — at this point — but Bears Ears National Monument in neighboring Utah has been recommended for major downsizing. Bears Ears was made a monument last year after decades of efforts by proponents, including several tribes who consider the site sacred.

Now, we face the likely dismantling of the sage grouse conservation effort, one of our country’s largest-ever conservation undertakings. When he ordered a review of the 2015 plans, Zinke again talked of being a good neighbor but then made clear who the most important “neighbor” was — the energy industry. The driving force is to remove onerous “burdens” on achieving the administration’s goal of energy dominance by developing our public lands.

It apparently doesn’t matter that our public lands, by law and public desire, have been and should be managed to accommodate multiple uses in a manner that will ensure they will be healthy and vibrant for the long term. It doesn’t matter that the sage grouse plans and national monuments the administration wants to eviscerate or abolish altogether have widespread support.

If the administration truly wants to be a good neighbor, it needs to start listening to the public when it comes to public lands.

George Newman is chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.


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