During his first days on the job, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke may have heard that one of the true collaborative public land success stories at the Department has been a plan to manage sagebrush landscapes in a way that keeps sage-grouse off the endangered species list. While it’s not likely the Vice President of the United States got the same briefing during his first day on the job, we certainly hope he’s been able to get up to speed since then.
To achieve the sage-grouse plans, stakeholders from oil companies to conservationists to the outdoor recreation industry and sportsmen and sportswomen sat at a table and hashed out a compromise that balances all of their interests. This important work took years and years of careful negotiations.
Secretary Zinke recently told a group representing public lands grazers that he was interested in changing those plans — something that would come as a major surprise to the long-running coalition of diverse interests that managed to keep the bird off the list. (He did this on a day when he also apparently cast doubts on one of his boss’ top policy priorities.)
Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported that Vice President Pence is involving himself in the sage-grouse plans without apparently consulting any Western elected officials, from county commissioners to United States Senators.
No one could be disappointed that the administration is taking an interest in this issue, but they could certainly be confused as to why they are announcing changes to a consensus-built policy so casually. And they did so without first consulting the full spectrum of groups that made those plans possible.
The stakeholders who hashed out the plans did so by looking each other in the eye in and by shooting straight. That’s something Secretary Zinke‘s hero Teddy Roosevelt was well-known for. Let’s hope it’s something he’s committed to as the debate over sage-grouse moves forward.