With public meetings on the proposed sage grouse management plans being conducted across Nevada this week, an internal document released by the Department of the Interior and analyzed by Western Values Project (WVP) shows that Secretary Ryan Zinke did a two-step around Governor Sandoval when discussing his plans to roll back the 2015 sage grouse management plans.
Ignoring the long-established protocol of meeting first with a Chief Executive of a state, Secretary Zinke ignored Governor Sandoval and instead met with Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt on March 29, 2017, to discuss greater sage grouse conservation. Despite strenuous opposition from Governor Sandoval, Laxalt joined a federal lawsuit challenging sage grouse protections. It wasn’t until nearly a month later, on April 26th, that the Secretary finally met with Western governors, including Governor Sandoval’s office, to discuss Interior’s sage grouse review plans.
The internal Interior document notes that “there is disagreement between the Attorney General and the Governor on Greater Sage-grouse conservation” and that the department is “working internally to determine what we can legally roll back in the short term without fully rescinding the resource management plans.” This flies in the face of repeated commitments from Secretary Zinke to work with Western governors before making any changes to the sage grouse plans.
“This is a slap in the face to Governor Sandoval and another example of Secretary Zinke ignoring the hard work of bipartisan leaders,” said Chris Saeger, the executive director of the Western Values Project. “Despite his claims of working with Western governors on sage grouse management, it’s clear Zinke is only listening to the lobbyists who have taken over the Interior Department and the extreme voices who want to hand over our public lands to special interests in Washington, D.C.”
Western governors have been critical of Secretary Zinke’s decision to overhaul the 11-state greater sage grouse management plans only two years after they were implemented. Governor Sandoval joined other governors in questioning Interior’s plans. His spokeswoman reiterated that “we have to remember, that the Greater sage-grouse is a state bird and management of the bird is a state responsibility.” Sandoval’s office was not only critical of the proposed federal mandate but also called into question the use of population objectives over habitat management.
A WVP analysis of a leaked document from oil and gas lobbyists found that Secretary Zinke’s handpicked sage grouse review team adopted 13 of 15 of their recommendations. Five of the top 10 lease-owners in sage grouse habitat are members of the lobby group and stand to benefit from the proposed rollback.