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Interior Secretary Zinke has turned his back on the American West

Sage-grouse bird Interior Department zinke

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is silencing the voices of Westerners by attempting to roll back more than a decade of collaborative work with his recent recommended changes to protecting a native bird called the sage-grouse and its sagebrush habitat, which is vitally important to the West.

Zinke’s proposed changes, like forcing states to substitute population targets for conservation targets and prioritizing oil and gas development in areas the conservation plans set aside for sagebrush, undermine the integrity of the plans in place, and their proven success across sagebrush landscape.

{mosads}In what seemed like a blink of an eye, a few very powerful people in Washington threw the West, and sagebrush landscapes, for a tailspin — all to satisfy their friends in the oil and gas industry — at the peril of our wildlife, recreation opportunities, rural economies and way of life.


Unsurprisingly, Zinke’s review of the sage-grouse plans, created confusion and conflict where none existed. More importantly, Zinke conducted his review in a relative vacuum, without public input, leaving Western stakeholders out of the loop. Part of the reason why the original plans were successful is because they were locally driven — not handed down to the states by Washington, D.C insiders and beltway bureaucrats.

And the reality is that this review and these changes could have devastating effects on our local economies and outdoor recreation opportunities. Each year outdoor recreation in sagebrush country generate $1 billion in economy output. Not to mention, these changes would deplete healthy sagebrush habitat, a landscape that provides both protection and sustenance for the vulnerable sage-grouse, and would threaten to land the bird on the Endangered Species List — something that the pervious conservation plans had prevented.

At the core of any successful public land management is collaboration amongst stakeholders on the ground, rarely has an effort entailed as much collaboration and cooperation as the process to create the sage-grouse plans. But Zinke has turned his back on collaboration, sound science and the experiences of those who live, work and recreate near and on the sagebrush landscape, instead choosing to be guided by Washington lobbyists. His decision is reckless, counterproductive and is bound to set back true multiple use-management of our public lands for generations to come.

Zinke’s decision compromises the well-being of Western communities, wildlife, landscapes and families at the behest of corporate polluters. Zinke might fashion himself a “Roosevelt Republican,” but his decision to shut out Western voices and listen only to corporate special interests says otherwise.

Zinke needs to wake up to the fact that our communities, landscapes, wildlife and economies are healthier and more successful when local stakeholders have a seat at the table — not when Washington lobbyists and special interests get to call the shots.

In his review of the sage-grouse plans, Zinke missed a key opportunity to build upon decades of collaboration. Going forward he must make a concerted effort to include stakeholders from across the West in decisions made about sage-grouse conservation — if he does not, the alternative looks bleak for the sage-grouse and Western communities.

Chris Saeger is the director of Western Values Project, a national conversation organization focused on public lands conservation and energy development policy. Saeger previously worked as communications director of the Montana Democratic Party and the Service Employees International Union in Arizona and Colorado.  

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chris Saeger Department of Interior greater sage-grouse Ryan Zinke Ryan Zinke
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