In monuments report, a skewed view of protections

In late August, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted a report detailing the results of his review of 27 national monuments to the White House. Zinke’s suggestions, kept secret at the time, were recently made public by the Washington Post. The report calls for boundary changes at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the border between Oregon and California; and looser restrictions on activities at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte National Monuments, both in New Mexico. It also proposes trims or changes to allowed activities at three marine monuments and one monument in Maine. This story originally appeared on High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Monuments are intended to protect significant landmarks, structures, or “objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal land under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Despite public support, Zinke recommends changes to NM’s national monuments

National media outlets released a leaked copy of the national monument review submitted by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to the White House in August. Screenshots of the document, labeled as “Draft Deliberative – Not for Distribution,” were released Sunday night. The 19-page report Zinke sent to President Trump includes recommendations about the two national monuments up for review in New Mexico, Rio Grande del Norte near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces. Sign up for our weekly environmental email here. Widely expected to recommend changes to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Zinke’s review also calls for “amendments” to Rio Grande del Norte.

Federal moves on wildfires, shortening environmental studies + upcoming public meetings

On Tuesday, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed his agency to “adopt more aggressive practices” to prevent and combat wildfires. We’ll keep you posted on what that actually means, and what it will mean for New Mexico. E&E news reported this week that Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order restricting the length of environmental studies to 150 pages or less, or less than 300 pages for “unusually complex projects.” According to the story, “More broadly, the memo gives Bernhardt the potentially far-reaching responsibility for overseeing the department’s efforts to clear away ‘potential impediments’ and ‘streamline’ the environmental review process.” Before claiming the Number Two position at Interior, Bernhardt was a lobbyist whose clients included mining and energy companies and the nation’s largest irrigation district, California’s Westlands Water District. He represented Westlands in four different lawsuits against the department where he now works. The Associated Press reports that the New Mexico Department of Transportation is putting up warning signs along the stretch of Interstate-10 near the border with New Mexico that’s become increasingly prone to dust storms, putting drivers at risk.

As sportsmen watch Zinke, disillusionment replaces hope

At the beginning of Ryan Zinke’s tenure as Interior Secretary, the sporting community was hopeful: He’s from Montana. He’s a sportsman himself. And his first public meeting was with hook-and-bullet groups. as many sportsmen have begun to feel that the Interior Department is giving short shrift to conservation. Chief among sportsmen’s concerns are the Trump administration’s push for energy development on public lands, the loosening of sage grouse protections and other regulatory rollbacks, and Zinke’s recommendations to shrink national monuments.

Court says feds broke the law when delaying new royalty rule

A federal judge said Wednesday that the United States government broke the law when it delayed a rule updating how royalties are calculated when companies drill and mine offshore and on federal and tribal lands. Those royalties are paid out to states, tribes and the United States government. After five years of analysis, meetings with stakeholders and public comment, in 2016 the Office of Natural Resource Revenue (ONRR) issued a rule updating valuation rules, which had been set in the 1980s. ONRR estimated the changes would increase royalty collections by $71.9 to $84.9 million annually. The rule took effect on January 1, 2017 and initial reports were due in February.

Augustin Plains Ranch order released, meetings scheduled on controversial water project

A few weeks ago, we reported on a proposal by Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC to build a pipeline and pump 54,000 acre-feet of water each year from the aquifer to the Albuquerque area. The 37 wells would all be in Catron County near the town of Datil. Now in its third iteration, the application is pending before the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, which administers the state’s water resources. In July, the state agency canceled a pre-hearing meeting. But last week, it released the application’s scheduling order, which includes information about the project and the process, as well as upcoming public meetings.

Interior’s new sage grouse recommendations at a glance

The Interior Department has finished a sweeping review of 98 West-wide sage grouse management plans, part of a broader effort to examine what President Donald Trump deems potential barriers to energy extraction on federal public lands. The review, which took place across the 10 Western states with existing sage grouse plans, ended with a contentious report filed to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week. A panel of federal officials authored the report, which was released to the public on Monday. The report suggests scaling back protections for the imperiled bird, in an effort to give states (and likely industry) more flexibility. Some governors and industry groups say the recommendations open the door to more development.

Under Trump, tribal land ownership is not a priority

During President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, tribal sovereignty, the power by which tribes govern themselves, was a prime concern. But under the Trump administration, that may change. There are several indicators of this shift, including proposed budget cuts to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and the de-prioritization of major land initiatives. Within the first six months of President Donald Trump’s administration, the Department of Interior has renewed its interest of energy development and tribal land privatization. That differs starkly from Obama policies, which focused on both acquiring and consolidating land for tribal nations.

The Interior secretary gave a closed-door speech to ALEC

On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”

ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.

NM national monuments remain under threat from DOI

TAOS, N.M. — New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments could shrink dramatically if their protected status is removed or their size is reduced, and the decisions could come by late August. A report from Democrats on the U.S. Joint Economic Committee warns that could mean a loss of millions of tourism dollars in New Mexico. Stuart Wilde guides tourists on llama treks through the Rio Grande monument near Taos. He said he agrees that the economic impact would be significant. “People come to hike and bike, and fish and hunt, and camp and experience these national monuments,” Wilde said.