The Trump administration’s decision to suspend the Bureau of Land Management’s citizen advisory boards has drawn criticism from those who say the councils were one of the few ways to engage with federal land managers.
“These meetings are an invaluable way to ensure rural and local voices in Colorado are heard and considered in conversations about the use of our public lands,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a prepared statement. “The administration should not block community input on BLM actions.”
On May 3, the Department of the Interior sent out a notice that said it was reviewing more than 200 boards, committees and other advisory functions that work with the agency in providing input. The review, the notice says, requires that all advisory councils be “rescheduled for September or later.”
“(Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke) is committed to restoring trust in the department’s decision-making and that begins with institutionalizing state and local input and ongoing collaboration, particularly in communities surrounding public lands,” the notice says.
Bennet and six other Western Democratic senators sent a letter to Zinke on Thursday condemning the decision, arguing, “by working through difficult land management issues and getting local input from the beginning, projects are more likely to succeed.”
Republican Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner did not respond to requests for comment.
More than 70 members of the BLM’s Resource Advisory Council, which include mining representatives and environmentalists, called on Zinke to reinstate the advisory groups.
“We are deeply concerned that canceling all public advisory committee activities until further notice fundamentally undermines trust in the public process, and eliminates a vital opportunity for public input in the management of our public lands,” the letter says.
In Colorado, four of the state’s Resource Advisory Councils are in limbo.
RACs are typically made up of 15 members, drawing appointees from a wide range of interests that include the energy industry, ranchers, outdoor recreationists, environmental groups and local politicians.
The groups are a platform for public comment on projects or issues in a particular region.
“It (RACs) really gives the public a voice that otherwise they don’t have,” said Jimbo Buickerood of the San Juan Citizens Alliance and member of the Southwest Colorado RAC. “There’s really no other open and ongoing forum for the public.”
In Southwest Colorado, for instance, the RAC was instrumental in garnering public feedback on whether to pursue a more intensive study of oil and gas development – known as a Master Leasing Plan – around Mesa Verde National Park.
After overwhelming public support, the BLM’s Colorado office in September announced it would engage in a Master Leasing Plan.
“We want to be responsive to the community,” Connie Clementson, field manager for the Tres Rios office, said at that time.
All of Colorado’s RACs were slated to meet in a statewide meeting on June 19 in Gunnison. Shannon Borders, the BLM’s spokeswoman, sent an email to members on April 26, notifying them the meeting would be postponed.
The suspension of the Interior’s groups comes after Trump signed an executive order April 26 to review more than 30 national monuments designated since 1996.