“a rare moment of bipartisanship … and a rare victory for environmentalists”
In recent months, the partial shut-down of the US federal government led to damage by humans visiting Joshua Tree National Park (the photo above from 2012 is in the public domain). Prior to that debacle, the Department of Interior recommended large reductions in the size of two national monuments—Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears, both in Utah. Now, in the wake of the resignation of US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the US Congress is embarking on a dramatically different approach to the management of public lands in the United States.
Every change of administration from one political party to the next brings cautious concern over the new directions in store for various government agencies and federal policies. But Zinke's relatively short tenure as US Secretary of the Interior is perhaps unprecedented in that regard in terms of his effects on the department's direction. With the primary mission of promoting conservation - the "wise use" of federal lands and the resources contained within them - the US Department of the Interior oversees national parks, national monuments, historic sites, federal forests, and millions of acres of other federal properties with various levels of protection for the natural and cultural resources under its management. Importantly, Interior is also charged with administering federal programs for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other groups.
Zinke’s time with Interior was very rocky—numerous federal investigations were launched and a number of very controversial federal land-use policies were initiated—but in December of 2018 he finally resigned. Now, so soon after Zinke’s departure (resignation!) as Secretary of the Interior, the US Senate has passed one of the most far-reaching land conservation laws in US history and the US House of Representatives is poised to do the same. This legislation puts in place a number of policies that directly contradict those the Zinke administration had embraced. With enough votes to override a presidential veto in the Senate (the vote was 92-8), and the predicted amount of votes in the House for the same, this land conservation bill together with its permanent authorization of funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be one of the most far-reaching land conservation acts in US history.
Senate Passes a Sweeping Conservation Bill
By Coral Davenport
The New York Times
February 12, 2019
The Senate just passed the decade’s biggest public lands package. Here’s what’s in it.
By Juliet Eilperin and Dino Grandoni
The Washington Post
February 12, 2019