Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has spent much of 2018 so far courting controversy with his plan to open up coastal waters to offshore drilling. On Friday, he took a moment to focus on the actual interior of the country with a new secretarial order on big game migration corridors. The announcement, which aims to both improve habitat quality and expand opportunities for hunting, is creating even more controversy for Zinke.
Basically, Zinke, who has made a habit of prioritizing use of public lands over conservation of them—whether that entails recreation, natural resource extraction, hunting, or even straight up gold rushes—wants states and private landowners to work together to help “ensure that robust big game populations continue to exist.”
Large mammals, including those hunted for sport like antelope, elk, and mule deer, require lots of land to survive in the wild. Human development, such as urban sprawl, oil and gas extraction, and highways, can prevent these animals from making traditional migrations. For instance, when mule deer travel over 100 miles into Arizona from Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park, they cross state, private, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service land, according to the announcement. That’s a lot to keep track of, and Zinke wants to make these pathways clearer by working with ranchers, local governments, and scientists to better understand migration routes and help conserve and improve them.
“My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this order will help establish better migration corridors for some of North America’s most iconic big game species,” Zinke said in a statement.
The order is short on details aside from asking stakeholders to begin working together.
Environmental groups did not take issue with the order per se—in fact, conservation groups agree wholeheartedly that wildlife migration corridors are critical for sustaining large mammal populations. They responded incredulously to Zinke’s announcement because of his track record.
Greg Zimmerman, Deputy Director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement that while “there’s no doubt that planning for wildlife migration is important,” there’s “not a single Interior Secretary in U.S. history who has inflicted more damage to America’s great conservation legacy than Ryan Zinke.”
“We won’t allow the secretary and his staff to greenwash this abysmal record with meager policy crumbs,” he said.
The Center for American Progress said that if Zinke “were serious about increasing America’s wildlife populations” he would “restore public input on drilling decisions, and stand up for America’s national monuments and wildlife refuges instead of selling them out.”
Prior to the outcry over his offshore drilling plan, which continues to garner pushback from coastal states, Zinke angered environmentalists with his role in the Trump administration’s plans to shrink two major national monuments, Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, by millions of acres.
Zinke’s optics weren’t helped by making the announcement at a major hunting expo in Salt Lake City, where demonstrators outside protested his track record.