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Interior Department under Zinke is Chance for Change

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Ryan Zinke
Ryan Zinke

The Donald Trump cabinet continues to take shape, although he has yet to single out a selection for the next USDA Secretary. This week reaction has been mixed to his selection of Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke for the Interior Department, with environmentalists envisioning trouble ahead, but agriculture groups expecting more balance between conservation and land use.

Many in agriculture feel Zinke will bring more balance to Bureau of Land Management policies, with more practical land use methods, fewer lawsuits and fewer fights over endangered species. It is a chance for change says Public Lands Council Director Ethan Lane.

Ethan Lane
Ethan Lane

“It’s been a long eight years with a focus on responding to a lot of these litigious environmental groups that have sort of fallen into a really bad habit of just lobbing lawsuits at the Department of Interior on a near constant basis, and that’s really driving policy at this point and what we’re going to see more and more with things like the Endangered Species Act. This is something that really impacts producers moving into the middle of the country is, whether it’s the monarch butterfly or several species of bees, if we don’t return some balance to that equation, which is what we’re hoping secretary Zinke will do when he comes in, we’re really headed down an irreparable path with species conservation.”

Lane expects that to change under Zinke, who environmentalists credit for splitting with the GOP to oppose sale of public lands back to states. Lane says the media focuses too much on the sale of lands, when there’s no clear-cut answer to the issue.

“It’s more important to look at his overall decision making and voting record in Congress, which has been one of really a balanced approach that focuses on making sure that we’re doing the best job that we can to conserve these resources while at the same time upholding the mission of these agencies to manage for multiple use and sustained yield where it’s appropriate.”

Lane argues a lot of the goals the environmental community has in conservation are not possible without the land management and stewardship ranchers provide. It is an argument by much of agriculture on land use and the last eight years of rulemaking, some of it upended or on hold in the courts, to vastly expand federal control of ditches and potholes that fill with water, airborne dust, milk spills and more.

After eight years and a record 83,000 pages of new regulations, at a cost to business of some two trillion dollars, The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers and others say it’s time for a new approach.