Opinion: Zinke undermining the ‘public’ in public lands


Last summer, New Mexico’s two newest national monuments were scrutinized by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke as part of a monthslong review. New Mexicans were repeatedly fed the message that the review was necessary to ensure the public, especially in communities near our monuments, had a voice and supported the designations.

It appears Secretary Zinke has changed his tune and would now prefer the public keep quiet. Recently, he instructed the Bureau of Land Management to do away with several opportunities for public involvement in oil and gas leasing.

A memo issued by the Interior Department instructs BLM field offices to expedite the process of oil and gas leasing, scrapping the only mandatory public comment period for lease sales, shortening the protest period to only 10 days and declaring that lease sales will be held regardless of any unresolved protests.

Secretary Zinke also officially eliminated master leasing plans, dismantling a crucial avenue for cooperation and compromise among public land users. These plans brought communities together in collaboration with the energy industry. They set long-term management guidelines, balancing energy development with the protection of traditional uses, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, cultural resources and resources for industries, such as ranching.

The BLM is required to manage our public lands for multiple uses, a point heavily emphasized by Secretary Zinke during the national monument review. Yet this new approach effectively strips other public land users of their say in oil and gas leasing and ultimately how our public lands are managed.

This administration continues to set a dangerous precedent for management of our public lands, selectively ignoring their multiple-use mandate and relentlessly undermining the “public” in public lands.

 Sophie Shemas is a Public Lands Fellow with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.