A new structure for the Interior Department takes shape

Update: In an interview with the Associated Press on Feb. 23, Zinke said he is reconsidering aspects of his planned overhaul of the Interior Department. According to the report, Interior will be moving forward with a reorganization that adheres more closely to state boundaries, though some states will continue to be split. “Western Governors are gratified that the Department of Interior has responded to their previously-stated concerns and are moving towards a state boundary-oriented approach in the latest draft map of its unified regional boundaries,” said Jim Ogsbury, Executive Director of the Western Governors’ Association. The Department of Interior employs around 70,000 people and oversees a broad array of federal programs, from land management agencies like the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service to relationships with tribal nations through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

The United States Bureau of Land Management announced this week a final rule aimed at limiting methane flaring at oil and gas wells. The rule, which requires oil and gas producers to limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, is set to be enforced gradually. In a press release, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the rule is also an effort to update regulations to mirror available technology. “Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said. New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has long opposed the BLM rule, citing the difficulty of oil and gas companies getting access to federal land in order to capture the excess methane.

Decision due on controversial Gila diversion

SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups fighting a plan to divert large amounts of water from the Gila River in New Mexico say today is the deadline for the federal government to green light the plan. The project would cut a significant amount of water from the river that normally flows into Arizona. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to announce whether funds will be allocated for the project. It would divert some 14,000-acre feet of water annually, and pump it over the Continental Divide to southern New Mexico. Staci Stevens, communications manager for the Audubon New Mexico, says the environmental impact statement and other studies for the project will have to clear some high hurdles.

Scientists urge release of wolves to protect species

ALBUQUERQUE – Scientists and wild animal advocates are calling on federal authorities to release at least five packs of Mexican gray wolves into New Mexico’s Gila National Forest to preserve the endangered species. Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, says the move is necessary to avoid inbreeding among the last 110 wolves living in the U.S.

She says scientists and 43 conservation organizations sent a sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell after state officials failed to act. “Actually, New Mexico has a law that requires the state to recover endangered species,” Ray points out. “And the gray wolf is a New Mexico state-listed endangered species, as well as a federally listed one.” Some ranchers and hunters maintain increasing the number of wolves in the Gila National Forest could lead to loss of livestock and elk.