The Trump administration has angered ranchers, hunters, fishermen and conservationists across the US who complain they are being shut out of a federal advisory process designed to steer the management of cherished public lands.
Many of the dozens of public advisory boards have been stonewalled by the Department of Interior since the president put Ryan Zinke at the helm of the agency.
In a letter sent last week to Zinke, 23 members of public-lands advisory groups in Colorado said they were “dismayed” and felt “disenfranchised” by their “inability to perform in our official role”, and that some had not met in over a year. Panels in other states have faced similar difficulties.
The letter follows the January resignation of 10 of the 12 members of the National Park System advisory board, who complained that Zinke had declined to meet with them.
Zinke announced last year that he was reviewing the status of over 200 advisory bodies intended to solicit outside input, but some of their members say the effect has been to eliminate local comment on issues of national importance.
“The latest I’ve heard is that people’s terms are beginning to expire – I think mine’s expired, too – and nobody is of course reappointing them, and things are just dying,” said Cal Cumin, a land-planning consultant on a board in eastern Montana.
“We have no word out of Washington; they seem to be stymied in Washington in terms of getting stuff done,” said John Hiatt, a Nevada conservationist who said the terms of six people on his panel, out of 15, had expired.
There are 38 such panels in the western US, known as resource advisory councils and comprised of environmentalists, foresters, archaeologists, wild-horse experts, ranchers, politicians and others. They provide advice to a division of Interior department, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on issues such as national monuments and endangered species.
The BLM oversees 250 million acres of public land, ranging from land in California’s Mojave desert to the two national monuments recently shrunk by the Trump administration: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
“Rather than being part of the processes when Ryan Zinke evaluated the national monuments, we’re instead shut out of the process,” said Ralph Knapp, the acting head of an advisory board in Montana that has not met during the Trump administration. A meeting of his panel was scheduled for October but had to be canceled because its charter had lapsed.
National spokespeople for the interior Department and the BLM did not respond to requests for comment. “I don’t have any word,” said Joseph Fontana, a BLM official in northern California. The review is “happening at levels above me”.
Some boards, for instance in Utah, are operating. In other places, frustration with the delays has peaked. Two members of a board in Colorado have resigned, Colorado Politics reported last week.
“It didn’t make sense to sit on an advisory committee whose advice wasn’t going to be asked for,” George Newman, a local county commissioner, told the publication.
“The administration is one sided; that side is to do whatever they can do to deregulate for the benefit of the oil and gas industry at the sacrifice of longterm environmental needs.”
Across the Trump administration “the opportunities for public input and public involvement are being curtailed”, said Jimbo Buickerood, member of stymied panel in Colorado. “Everyone is scratching their hair – or pulling it out.”