Editorial: Interior secretary nominee should work with states on public lands

Ryan Zinke nominated to head Interior Department (Getty Images via WSJ)

Ryan Zinke nominated to head Interior Department (Getty Images via WSJ)

It is a bit disappointing that Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Interior Department, which along with other federal agencies controls 85 percent of Nevada, does not embrace his own party’s call for more federal public land to be transferred to the control of the states and local governments, but at least freshman Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke recognizes the need for better cooperative management of those lands.

The GOP platform that came from the summer convention reads: “Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power of influence to urge the transfer of those lands identified.”

But Zinke told the Billings Gazette he doesn’t support the transfer of federal lands.

“Quite frankly, most Republicans don’t agree with it and most Montanans don’t agree with it,” Zinke said of the party platform plank. “What we do agree on is better management.”

He has proposed setting up watchdog panels composed of state, tribal and local government representatives and the mining industry to oversee Interior Department land management.

The Daily Signal online news site quoted Zinke as saying, “As someone who grew up in a logging and rail town and hiking in Glacier National Park, I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve Montana and America as secretary of interior. As inscribed in the stone archway of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana, I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’”

At least he includes benefits along with enjoyment.

Since he seems to favor cooperative management, he would do well to heed the suggestions made by a group of Western policy organizations recently in a letter to Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

The Western Governors’ Association, Conference of Western Attorneys General, Council of State Governments West, Western Interstate Region of the National Association of Counties, and the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region collaborated to produce what they are calling “Principles to Clarify and Strengthen State-Federal Relationship,” a true partnership, unlike the current tension between the two.

The letter outlines the framework that underpins the lengthy list of recommendations for cooperation: “Under the American version of federalism, the powers of the federal government are narrow, enumerated and defined. The powers of the states, on the other hand, are vast and indefinite. States are responsible for executing all powers of governance not specifically bestowed to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution. In many cases, states delegate a portion of their authority to counties and other local governments. Though local governments are diverse in structure, all are on the front lines of delivering vital services to residents.”

Among other things the associations ask that the new executive administration act on the presumption that sovereignty rests first with the individual states and not the federal agencies.

They ask that states be consulted before decisions are made. Currently the states are routinely consulted under the letter of the law but then largely ignored. Both Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt have complained that state input on such matters as sage grouse habitat management have been ignored by federal land agents.

The letter further asks that when new regulations are being promulgated that the cost to state and local governments be taken into account to ensure funds are sufficient to pay for compliance costs.

As for Zinke’s opposition to states taking control of federal land, perhaps he should heed a Wall Street Journal editorial this week that points out federal land agencies lose $2 billion a year. For example, the Forest Service assesses user fees of about 28 cents per dollar spent on recreation, compared to Montana’s $6.31. It is estimated that state-managed lands generate 10 times more revenue per employee than do the feds.

We call on Zinke to be cooperative but also compromise on his stance on the transfer of federal public land to the states — especially land adjacent to communities that can quickly put it to viable economic benefit.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

16 comments on “Editorial: Interior secretary nominee should work with states on public lands

  1. Reziac says:

    From the Gazette:
    In June, Zinke proposed appointing a “watchdog panel” of state, tribal and local government representatives and mining industry representatives to advise the Department of Interior on mineral leasing. House Democrats said Zinke’s proposal gave too much power to local interests.

    I suspect Zinke’s real position is that we shouldn’t rush into transferring federal lands to the states; let’s see how local control works out first, and perhaps consider it on a case-by-case basis, or develop a hybrid of federal ownership and local control rather than the decree-by-D.C. that we have today. I can see some states making a mess of it as they have everything else (eg. California).

    (He’s my Congressman; I’ve been paying attention.)

  2. deleted says:

    By all means let us agree that the “user fees” assessed on the current users of federal land (I.e. Cattle ranchers, loggers, miners, and oil and gas drillers) PAY ALOT MORE for exploiting what belongs rightfully to the American public rather than to their greedy shareholders.

    Common ground.

  3. Rex Steninger says:

    Well done, Thomas. Thank you.



  4. […] Editorial: Interior Secretary Nominee Should Work With States On Public Lands […]

  5. Linda Sanders says:

    DT said before elected that things are fine the way they are when asked if he thought the states should have more control of “their” land

  6. He said the opposite a week later in Reno op-ed.

  7. If the new nominee doesn’t call for an exterminator to clean out the rats in the BLM and Fish & Wildlife gestapos…there will be no progress at all. Where does the nominee think all that federal money for range management came from in the first place? That’s right, from “we the people of the states”…who in my humble opinion would do a whole helluva lot better managing their own lands than the Feds.

  8. deleted says:

    This is what happens when federal land, bought and paid for with the lives of American citizens, not to mention their dollars, gets “transferred” I.e. Given away, to a state. (It’s even worse in other states)


  9. Steve says:

    Corruption vs death by arsenic in treated wastewater released back into the supply…..oh,,yeah that can’t happen…but it shouldn’t even be an issue.

    Well, now we know where Patrick stands.

  10. Rincon says:

    Steve: This is the best example you could find? An assertion by some engineer working in a tiny little town opines that arsenic in water coming from the park must be from Park Service wastewater. No proof, just an accusation. Although it may possibly have merit, the article clearly stated that arsenic from natural sources is commonly found in that area. I also have to wonder how he thinks very large quantities of arsenic got into wastewater from Yellowstone in the first place.

    Of course, the real problem here is that you also are picking as your evidence, a single, very anecdotal case of a POSSIBLE federal screwup as if there are never any screwups that could ever occur at the state or local level. How about if I claim that the water episode in Flint, Michigan is good evidence that local governments should never control their own water sources? Would you consider that valid? I believe the logic is the same.

    Deleted’s assertion is somewhat similar, but not quite as weak. Although corruption at the state level is probably common, there is no proof that it could never happen at the federal level or that there is no way to avoid state level corruption.

    Unless proven in some systematic, logical way, the ability of the governments to honestly and competently administer the land should not be a major factor in deciding what’s right and wrong here.

  11. Steve says:

    The Gardiner Water and Sewer Treatment District is “one guy”…..smh.

    Again with the “one guy in a tiny little place” response.

    Apparently you wish to believe all the people who are not happy with your liberal love for all things centrally controlled are one person, one horse, bubba’s from places that just don’t deserve to exist.

    Way to make shit up.

  12. Rincon says:

    From your own article: “Per the lawsuit: An “engineer recommended that the district address this infiltration problem with the park prior to beginning any sludge removal project.” Gardiner has a population of 875. Pretty tiny by Illinois standards.

    So WHO’S making shit up?

  13. Steve says:

    You, still. By claiming the district is one guy.

    But it matters not, as you show total disregard for rural America.

  14. Rincon says:

    Good night, Steve

  15. Steve says:

    God day….I SAID GOOD DAY, sir!

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