As the Interior Department gives lip service to a balanced approach, Western voters call for the real thing

Basin and Range National Monument | Nevada Bureau of Land Management Flickr

In Colorado College’s ninth annual Conservation in the West Poll, released this week, Western voters definitively rejected the Trump administration’s energy-first approach to managing America’s public lands. By a rate of nearly three to one, Westerners prefer policy makers emphasize protecting public lands and waters over increasing energy development.

According to the poll, 75 percent of Westerners view the rollback of laws that protect the nation’s lands and waters as a serious problem, with 49 percent indicating that the erosion of conservation laws is an extremely or very serious problem. …

Nearly three of every four nominations to lease public lands for energy development are anonymous

Oil and gas development on Colorado’s Roan Plateau | Photo: EcoFlight

Driven by the Trump administration’s pro-drilling policies, the oil and gas industry is nominating millions and millions of acres of public lands for leasing. In the last fiscal year, the administration has offered up more than 12.8 million acres of public lands to oil and gas companies. But when it comes to identifying exactly who’s nominating public lands for oil and gas development, there’s no way of knowing. Under Trump’s “energy dominance” regime, 73 percent of all nominations to lease public lands were filed anonymously.

Nearly 700 million acres of taxpayer-owned oil and gas are overseen by the Department of…

Under the veneer of “transparency,” a new policy will limit the Interior Department’s ability to make decisions using the best available science

Researchers hike through Katmai National Park and Preserve | Katmai National Park and Preserve

Last week the Interior Department quietly implemented a new policy, titled “Promoting Open Science.” The policy, masquerading under the guise of transparency, significantly undermines the Interior Department’s ability to make decisions based on the best available scientific research and is the most recent in an administration-wide effort to undercut scientific input at the federal level.

The “Promoting Open Science” policy now requires Interior staff to utilize only “publicly available” data and “reproducible” studies in decision-making, with few exceptions. While reasonable sounding on the surface, this approach will require managers to ignore many longstanding and high-caliber scientific studies, undermining the agency’s…

Putting unparalleled landscapes at risk, “energy dominance” has racked up more losses than wins

Well pads in New Mexico’s Permian Basin | Google Earth

Last week the Interior Department announced the sale of oil and gas leases covering over 50,700 acres in New Mexico’s Permian Basin for $972.5 million. Like a kid in a candy store, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke celebrated the “historic” lease sale, ignoring the reality of his shortsighted agenda: the rush to lease public lands for energy development has produced more failures than successes and left prized protected lands at risk.

“Critics of the Administration’s American Energy Dominance policy often falsely claim there is little to no interest in Federal oil and gas leases,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. …

History proves tired anti-conservation platitudes wrong

Grand Canyon National Park | W. Tyson Joye, NPS

As Americans celebrate National Park Week, one particular architect of our nation’s parks and protected lands deserves mentioning — the Antiquities Act, which we can thank for protecting dozens of national parks. Under the Trump administration the Antiquities Act, America’s bedrock conservation law, has come under attack as anti-conservation opponents work to unravel national monuments and undermine the Act itself.

One of the most pivotal pieces of conservation legislation ever passed, the Antiquities Act allows the president to directly preserve “objects of historic and scientific interest” as national monuments. Since its inception in 1906, 16 presidents have protected 157 monuments

Interior Department silences local input in favor of oil and gas drilling on public lands

Oil and gas development in Wyoming’s Absaroka-Beartooth Front, an important wildlife corridor | EcoFlight

This week the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly moved to kill oil and gas leasing policies designed to balance responsible energy development with outdoor recreation, wildlife, and water supplies. The move effectively strips the leasing process of opportunities for public input, silencing Western voices and continuing a trend of dwindling public participation under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s leadership, all in the name of “energy dominance.”

On Wednesday, the BLM issued an internal Instruction Memorandum overhauling 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms put in place by the Obama administration. …

Cuts to Utah’s national monument could threaten access to a ‘treasure trove’ of dinosaur fossils

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument | Photo: Tim Peterson, Illustrations: Lucy Livesay

On Monday, President Trump will travel to Utah to announce significant cuts to two of the state’s most remarkable national monuments, Grand Staircase–Escalante and Bears Ears. It will be the largest rollback of protections to public lands in history and could open what one paleontologist called the “last great, largely unexplored dinosaur boneyard in the lower 48 states” to coal mining and other energy development.

Today, Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is 1.9 million acres of spectacular desert landscapes, winding slot canyons and high plateaus, natural bridges and trickling ephemeral streams. It was the last place in the continental U.S. to…

No. Despite misleading rhetoric from politicians, public lands managed by U.S. agencies are no more prone to wildfires

Willow Fire in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest | U.S. Forest Service

Wildfire is an ever-present reality for many communities in the Western United States. As the West’s fires burn longer and hotter, some politicians have taken to scapegoating the region’s public lands, alleging that wildfire is worse on U.S. public lands than state-owned lands. Their claim, according to a new analysis of wildfire risk in the West, is entirely untrue. It’s time for public officials to abandon their baseless rhetoric and engage in pragmatic conversations and policy development to protect Western communities from wildfire risks.

Interior Secretary Zinke pushes for more privately-managed campgrounds despite dubious benefits

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at Yellowstone National Park | Department of the Interior

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — appointed by the president to protect and preserve America’s national parks and public lands — once again showed his true colors last week, shocking Westerners when he called for the privatization of national park campgrounds. With little evidence to suggest that privately-run park facilities are a good deal for either national park lovers or American taxpayers, the Secretary seems to be favoring companies over campers.

Speaking in front of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, Zinke suggested that the Department of the Interior could begin addressing the park service’s $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog by outsourcing…

President Trump ignores lessons from the Bush administration to leave national monuments alone

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has been called into question by both the Bush and Trump administrations | © Tim Peterson

When President Trump issued an executive order threatening dozens of America’s national monuments, he reopened a door firmly closed during the George W. Bush administration. A similar review of monuments launched in 2001 was halted after the national monuments in question proved to be exceptionally popular.

Instead of listening to lessons already learned, President Trump has again called into question America’s overwhelmingly popular conservation legacy.

In January 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Gale Norton to be Secretary of the Interior. During her confirmation hearing, Norton pledged to review national monuments designated by President Bill Clinton.

Like President Trump, Norton…

Lucy Livesay

Policy and Communications Manager | Center for Western Priorities | Denver, CO

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store