Groups fear Zinke shakeup of public lands management

SOUNDBITE SERVICES: The federal department that controls the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service, and dozens of other bureaus and agencies is one step closer to a major reorganization - even as some fear changes to the Interior Department would threaten public lands and wildlife.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says decentralizing the department to move decision making from Washington to regional offices would minimize bureaucracy.

He maintains the current system is causing assets to be mismanaged.

But Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation for the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, says the agencies and bureaus within the department each have important roles in protecting national parks, wildlife refuges and other public spaces.

"Reorganized as Secretary Zinke has proposed, these agencies and bureaus may fail in their missions to manage, conserve and restore natural resources for all of us," Salvo stresses.

In Congress this month, the House Appropriations Committee approved an Interior Department budget that allocates more than $17 million for the reorganization.

The proposal also includes funding cuts for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, and rollbacks of other environmental regulations.

The Department of the Interior manages about one-fifth of all land in the United States.

Salvo fears these major cuts and changes would undermine the department's long-held conservation goals.

"If you appreciate federal public lands, if you enjoy viewing, hunting and fishing for wildlife, if you appreciate the vast open spaces across the country, then you should be concerned about what the secretary of interior is proposing," he states.

Zinke has pointed out about 16 percent of Interior's employees are now at retirement age, calling it an opportune moment to rework the department structure through staffing changes.

Last week, longtime Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Daniel Wenk said he was being forced to take a different position or retire early.

The Interior Department's budget proposal now needs final approval from the full House and the Senate to move forward.

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