With the media ignoring the many good things happening in the Trump Administration, I’d like to relate some great news for Idaho and the West: The U.S. Department of Interior is listening to the American people and working to restore common-sense land management.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before the House Natural Resources Committee last Thursday, explaining the department’s budget request and taking questions for more than three hours.
Hearing from Zinke was a refreshing change from the Obama Administration. Instead of a recalcitrant bureaucracy determined to restrict multiple use of public lands, we now have a partner committed to working with states and localities.
The new Interior Department is reforming burdensome regulations, scaling back national monuments to reflect local concerns and moving to rescind overreaching policies on sage grouse habitat. They also are working to boost our economy, advance America’s energy dominance, conserve our lands, expand outdoor access and relieve a $16 billion backlog in deferred maintenance.
I used my time Thursday to ask Secretary Zinke about two issues that don’t get a lot of attention, but are vital to ranching families and rural economies across Idaho and the West. A misreading of the law by the Bureau of Land Management has resulted in restricting access to grazing lands in Owyhee County that have sustained families for generations.
The first problem is the BLM’s misinterpretation of the Wilderness Act; the second regards an inexcusable delay in renewing 68 grazing permits in Owyhee County that have been stalled since 1997.
I recently wrote Zinke about the wilderness issue and was joined by my colleague, Sen. Mike Crapo. We are asking the department to review a BLM interpretation of congressional intent that has wrongly curtailed grazing.
Zinke’s answer was refreshingly blunt: “It is my opinion that we have not lived up to the obligation of the intent of that law….We’re looking at it hard and I agree, it should be looked at.”
In the case of the delayed permits of the “Owyhee 68,” BLM had repeatedly capitulated to the demands of environmental groups to the detriment of ranchers.
Zinke acknowledged the department he now runs may have acted in bad faith. “It could have been willful and intentional to slow roll these things,” he said. “We’ve seen that across the West. We’ll work with you on it.”
The new administration understands what Idahoans have always known – ranching families that rely on a healthy landscape to feed their livestock are excellent stewards.
“In my experience, ranchers respect the land,” Zinke said. “They’re good people, they work hard, they preserve the land. And, in general, if a lot of our land had ranchers on it we wouldn’t have the issues we do.”
What a breath of fresh air to have a federal landlord that doesn’t demonize hard-working Americans who’ve helped build Idaho and the West. And what a difference a year makes!