WASHINGTON, March 29, 2017 - Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s new Interior Secretary, got a warm reception Tuesday from cattle ranchers when he promised to overhaul the department and make it more responsive to the needs of livestock producers and local communities.
"When you see a (Bureau of Land Management) truck out there – a lot of people see law enforcement rather than land management,” Zinke said to an appreciative crowd who traveled from as far away as Idaho to meet with the new secretary, former congressman and Navy SEAL. “We have not been a good neighbor. My job is to restore that trust.”
Zinke, speaking at a meeting of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) in Washington, promised big changes at Interior and in the way things are done at the agency. Under his watch, Zinke promised, agency officials at the local level will have much more authority as well as the task of restoring people’s trust in the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and other agencies.
Offering some advice from a former SEAL commander, Zinke said, “We’re too light on the front line and too heavy in Washington.” He said he’s planning to put more resources on the front lines, “and giving them the authority to make decisions.”
Zinke said the people who live in the communities near the land owned by the federal government should have more authority to make decisions independently as well as collaborate with ranchers and others who use the land.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time out in the field to make sure our folks understand … the importance of being a good neighbor and a good partner,” Zinke said.
All of this was a hit with the audience – people like Dallas Horton, who owns Horton Cattle Co. just north of Denver.
“He’s going to manage from the bottom up instead the top down,” Horton said after Zinke’s speech. “That’s what impressed me the most. The guys on the ground are going to be calling the shots. The guys in Washington are not going to call them because they don’t have a damn clue what’s going on out West.”
A lot of what is going on is grazing and people like Horton need federal lands managed by Interior to raise their cattle.
That’s why the crowd was perhaps most pleased when Zinke declared that his Interior Department will focus on making land usable for more than just one purpose.
“You can have coexistence of grazing and mining and recreation all in one,” Zinke stressed.
Horton says he needs to graze his cattle on federal land, but found it far too difficult during the Obama administration. The Trump administration and Zinke, he said, “are going to get rid of the bureaucracy.”
The Public Lands Council, which represents 22,000 ranchers who need grazing permits to use federal lands, is especially pleased with Zinke, said Dave Eliason, the group’s president.
“Secretary Zinke has consistently been an advocate for Western communities that depend on the ranching industry,” Eliason said in a statement. “Ranchers have been marginalized and overlooked during planning processes for far too long. We believe Secretary Zinke will bring stakeholders back to the table and stand up for those that have invested their time and livelihoods into the management and improvement of our federal lands.”
It’s not just the management that’s changing, but also the policies, Zinke said, promising a new decision soon on how to deal with the greater sage-grouse.
Interior agencies under the Obama administration worked with 11 Western states to create plans to protect the sage-grouse without having to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. But pushback from ranchers and others has been growing since those plans were put in place.
Zinke stressed that he has heard those complaints and that he’s going to be making big changes.
“You’ll be happy with the decision that’s going to come on sage grouse,” Zinke said. “I think if you’re a rancher with traditional Western values, you’re going to see a lot more power with the states.”
Zinke did not go into detail, but promised that the federal government’s role will be diminished.
“We’re looking at options,” he said. “That decision is soon to come out. That’s one of my top priorities.”