Secretary Zinke’s Interior Department is a force for good
© Getty Images

What good is a national park closed due to crumbling roads; or a national forest always ravaged by wildfires; or a recreation area capriciously placed off-limits by a bureaucrat? What good is a land management system that can’t respond to people because of cumbersome rules and internal red tape?

These are questions Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeFormer Koch adviser to oversee Interior Department's FOIA requests The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda Trump attends Army-Navy game MORE has been asking.

ADVERTISEMENT

For decades federal stewardship of public lands has been a disaster. Local communities reliant upon grazing for economic livelihood, as well as recreators and outdoor enthusiasts cut off from public land access, have been at the mercy and mismanagement of a detached bureaucracy in Washington. This status quo is something neither party in Washington should accept.

Fortunately, over the past two years, DOI, under Secretary Zinke has attempted to turn the corner and change this history. DOI’s leadership has shifted the discussion about public lands back to where it should have been: how best to manage land for the benefit of people. Zinke has done his homework and prioritized enhancing public access to lands, improving land and resource management, and simplifying the decision-making process.

We finally have an administration that understands how better management of public lands can serve as a driver of economic growth. They understand that greater revenues from public lands can lead to greater investments in conservation. DOI recently released a report showing that, under the Trump administration, the economic output of our public lands increased by $400 million to $292 billion. The number of jobs supported by federal lands increased by 230,000 to 1.8 million. If continued, these policies will lead to historic investment in the environment and create more outdoor opportunities for Americans.

Secretary Zinke and his team also understand that proper stewardship of public lands is unattainable without maintaining the land we already own. They embrace the idea that rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure - including public lands - is an investment in our future. This includes efforts to revitalize our National Park System by prioritizing a $16 billion public lands deferred maintenance backlog. The Public Lands Infrastructure Fund included in the administration's fiscal year 2019 budget, would direct energy lease sales on public lands to finance park revitalization. Since that time, legislation modeled after this proposal like H.R. 6510 has been introduced with bipartisan support, co-sponsored by half of all House members and supported by a broad cross-section of conservation and outdoor advocates.

Another major success of this administration is our domestic energy renaissance. DOI leadership wisely embraced America’s role as a leading energy producer. Even better, they’ve harnessed the windfall from American energy production to, once again, further investment in conservation and public access. Reports indicate that revenue disbursements to states generated by energy production increased by nearly $2 billion this year. While Local communities are benefiting, some seem to prefer the old business as usual. They prefer dysfunction, gridlock, and an ever-expanding bureaucracy. For instance, instead of responsibly caring for the millions of acres of land we already own (roughly one-third of the entire U.S. land mass), special interest groups push the government to acquire more land with little thought about the cost of maintaining the sprawling federal estate.

All want an efficient government that works for, not against, the American people. Earlier this year, DOI made a bold proposal for agency reorganization. Instead of a Washington-centric approach to governing, Zinke and his team establishes common regions to better coordinate management of federal lands and resources. The reform will reduce administrative redundancy while promoting shared decision-making between federal and local officials. This reorganization is set to be in place in the coming year. Many politicians say they support federalism and local involvement, but DOI is putting its money where its mouth is.

The leadership at DOI under Secretary Zinke deserves commendation for bold ideas and innovative actions. Despite these gains, some in the political left appear out for blood. I hope, my Democratic colleagues have loftier goals than grandstanding and political retribution. With any hope, the incoming Democratic majority will work together to help solve problems. Communities of the West and taxpayers deserve as much.

Bishop is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.