By Dan Morse
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) are groups of individuals from different backgrounds with an interest in public lands who work together to make management recommendations to the BLM. RACs focus on different geographic areas and are composed of a broad cross-section of people from these areas, with members representing interests ranging from mineral resources, livestock grazing, and wild horses to conservation, recreation and archaeology, as well as seats for tribes and the public-at-large. In essence, RACs fulfill a critical role in providing local, citizen input and oversight to the largest land management agency in our country, helping ensure that public land management meets the needs of nearby communities as well as national policy directives.
Despite this broad membership and important work, the Department of the Interior (DOI) recently cancelled all RAC activities nationwide without any explanation, guidance, or further information for members of the public. As a member of the Southeastern Oregon RAC, the limited and vague information I was given indicated that the purpose of this cancellation is for the Administration to review all public advisory bodies and functions currently in place at DOI.
I object to this cancellation because RACS are important to ensuring that the public has clear, strong input in the management of our public lands. These advisory bodies serve that important purpose — they help BLM communicate regularly and substantively with the public, sharing information, providing in-depth education on issues, and fielding questions. They serve as mechanisms for representatives of the public to share what they have learned with their communities and to provide perspectives on behalf of their communities to inform and educate BLM about public concerns and priorities.
I understand that DOI might periodically review how it gathers public input, but in eight years as a member of two different RACs, in different states, under three different Administrations I haven’t witnessed a move so incomprehensible and laden with top-down political interference as the cancellation of all RAC meetings for more than four months. This cancellation of our work fundamentally undermines trust in the public process, slows down critical efforts and eliminates a vital opportunity for public input in the management of our public lands.
Here in Southeastern Oregon our RAC has taken on important issues like assisting with the development of BLM management plans, reviewing management approaches for Greater sage-grouse and making suggestions about how to manage areas faced with increasing recreation use. I believe that mechanisms for public input like RACs lead to better land management. That is why I have been involved with RACs for more than a decade. Serving as a RAC member is an important responsibility and cancelling RAC meetings prevents all RAC members from ensuring that public input is thoroughly considered. This important work is why I have joined dozens of RAC members from throughout the west in asking Secretary Zinke to immediately reinstate RAC meetings. Reinstatement of the RACs is particularly important as critical issues like the future of national monuments and implementation of sage-grouse management plans are considered.
I admire and applaud dedicated BLM staff across the country for their stewardship of our public lands and I look forward to resuming work with BLM and my fellow RAC members to make thoughtful recommendations about how our public lands are managed.