Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke canceled all Resource Advisory Council (RAC) meetings – an essential opportunity for the public to provide input on public lands. The move comes after a chorus of faux outrage from Secretary Zinke and Congressional Republicans who have falsely claimed that the previous administration failed to consider public input before making national monument designations. This sudden about-face from Secretary Zinke takes hypocrisy to a new level, silencing an important opportunity for input after claiming there hasn’t been enough.
The RACs were formed in 1995 as a forum for local citizens to provide advice and recommendations to DOI on management of public lands. They are made up of a diverse group of constituents across 14 western states and 38 councils, including commodity, commercial, environmental, and historical interests, as well as state and local governments, tribes, and members of the public.
The April executive order signed by President Trump specifically decried the previous administration for making monument designations that result from a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with state, tribal, and local officials. Zinke also claimed that he would be transparent regarding land management decisions out west. It’s hard to be transparent when you silence the advisory councils that were created to oversee decisions and provide input to the department.
Why does this matter? The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is one of the single largest land managers in the country, overseeing some 260 million acres of public land and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral resources. Decisions by the BLM impact everything from hunting and fishing to resource development and ranching.
Several Western senators sent a letter to Secretary Zinke expressing concerns as the Department begins a review of 200 citizen boards. The letter didn’t mince words and puts the onus directly on Secretary Zinke to continue regular RAC meetings.
“During your confirmation hearing, you stressed the importance of local input and collaboration on public land management issues. This is exactly what RACs were formed to do and there are examples of RACs across the country contributing to successful projects that improve the quality of our public lands.”
In Montana, Zinke’s native state, 22 current and former RAC members sent a letter to the Secretary expressing “grave concerns” over the suspension of councils. The letter said, “It seems your intended purpose is to use taxpayer money to reopen a public process with one hand while handicapping public participation with the other.”
This isn’t the first example of hypocrisy we’ve seen since the monument review process began. Before his listening tour, Secretary Zinke proclaimed we should “give states and local communities a meaningful voice in the process.” By the end of his listening tour in Utah, the Secretary told reporters that “if he missed a group, that’s the breaks.” I guess he didn’t like what he was hearing.
If Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration truly care about citizen input and transparency, they should immediately reinstate RAC meetings, instead of operating in a vacuum with no oversight or accountability.