Instead of reducing park services and closing flood gauges because of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, Coburn said the department should cut lower-priority spending such as studies on sheep and rabbits.

“There is no shortage of potential savings within the Department to ensure core and crucial missions are not compromised,” the letter stated. “While USGS is planning to shut down vital flood gauges, the agency is planning to expand its use of unmanned aerial drones, obtained from the military, to survey the habitat of pygmy rabbits in Idaho in August, observe Elk in Washington in July, and count sheep in Nevada in October.    

“While these studies may provide some interesting information about rabbits, sheep and other animals, cancelling or delaying them is not life threatening. Yet shutting down vital flood gauges, by the agency’s own admission, could be.”

Coburn said that maintaining the flood gauges costs the federal government only $29 million. He suggested that if ending the studies on sheep wasn’t enough to make up the difference, Interior could stop funding conferences, upgrading their vehicle fleet or find more efficient ways to “round up wild horses,” which cost the department more than $70 million last year.

Coburn asked Jewell to respond to his questions on spending priorities by mid-May.