There is no position more important to the health and well-being of the natural world (at least within the United States) than the Secretary of the Interior. Overseeing the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for most of our public lands and natural resources.
This past week, Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke paid a visit to the Rogue Valley.
Unfortunately, it looks like Zinke is following in the footsteps of Interior Secretaries more interested in giveaways to industry than in protecting our natural treasures.
A quick recount of some of these Interior Secretaries:
There was James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, who increased coal mining five-fold on public land. Watt once said, “My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns.” Apparently he was working under a different job description.
Then there was President George W. Bush’s Secretary, Gale Norton, who came under investigation by the Justice Department after she began working for Royal Dutch Shell. Apparently she didn’t understand that it was illegal to negotiate future employment with an oil company while giving them leases to drill on public lands.
Trump’s Interior Secretary Zinke came to southern Oregon as part of his “National Monument Repeal Tour.” The Trump administration is “reviewing” 27 national monuments that have been established since 1997 by both Republican and Democratic administrations. On Zinke’s visit he had planned to meet with timber executives and Rep. Greg Walden to discuss the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument just outside of Ashland.
What Zinke had not planned on was running into public lands and monument supporters everywhere he went.
With no notice and little time to organize, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, KS Wild, Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Indivisible, and swaths of outdoor lovers showed up in droves to support the Cascade-Siskiyou.
On his first morning while Zinke was touring the monument with local BLM staff, he came face-to-face with hikers, painters, runners, and horseback riders on the Greensprings Trail.
At a press conference that same afternoon with Rep. Greg Walden, he was met with monument supporters paddling along the shoreline on Hyatt Lake who then unfurled two big “We LOVE our Monument” banners as the backdrop for media coverage.
When Gov. Kate Brown heard about Zinke’s visit, she came to the monument and took part in an equestrian tour and finished her day meeting with the Secretary. Her message was loud and clear: Oregonians love their public lands.
When Zinke finally made time for monument supporters, more than 300 people showed up at the Medford BLM office for an impromptu barbecue and rally, where Secretary Zinke held meetings.
Thanks to the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Secretary Zinke and tell him that the Cascade-Siskiyou is a landscape full of life and is a place like no other in the world.
We will be hearing more from Zinke. He will drive the policies over how we manage our public forests, wildlife habitat, and even our drinking water that often originates from public land. The Trump Administration remains hostile to protecting our public lands, so don’t be surprised to see the secretary try to shrink or weaken the monument, to increase logging of old-growth forests, or to favor mining over conservation.
But one thing is clear: southern Oregonians are ready to protect their public lands and we’ll make sure Zinke knows it.
—Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.
(July 26: The story was updated to reflect that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was not "uninvited," as originally stated, during Secretary Zinke's visit; she was invited to a short meeting with the secretary.)