Sec. Zinke meets with DOI employees, lays out priorities for agency future
Washington, D.C. – On March 2, the 168th birthday of the Department of the Interior (DOI), newly sworn-in Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke addressed employees of DOI to emphasize his enthusiasm for public lands and layout his priorities for the future.
“I am absolutely honored to be Secretary of DOI,” Zinke said.
Zinke, the first Montanan to serve as DOI Secretary, stated that his priorities are to make sure that DOI has the proper tools and training to do their jobs and make the necessary decisions on the front line, while earning the reputation of DOI as the most trusted agency in the government.
“As we get outside of D.C. and go further West, there’s a disconnect in the trust that people have,” he commented. “We should be the most trusted department in the government because we hold our country’s national treasures.”
As stewards of America’s public lands, national parks and national monuments, Zinke added, “We need to be trusted advocates rather than adversaries.”
Finally, he said, “Hear it from my lips, we will not sell or transfer public lands.”
Move to local
Among his priorities, Zinke noted that he plans to enable on-the-ground employees to make decisions and provide management in their areas to ensure the best management possible.
“We are all going to work hard as a team to restore trust and be embedded in our local communities on the front line so we can make decisions,” he explained. “Those decisions on the ground might not be the same as what headquarters would want, and they might not be what I want, but decisions are often made best from the front line where people are embedded in collaborative efforts.”
“One size fits all fits no one,” Zinke commented.
While working on the ground to accomplish local goals, Zinke added that infrastructure is also important.
“Our infrastructure across the system – not just parks but on refuges – is behind,” he said. “I’m going to ask for the whole enchilada in focusing on rebuilding our parks and make sure we have what we need in the West.”
Too often, Zinke explained that the aging infrastructure is incapable of meeting the demands of today.
“When we look at our parks, like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, a lot of the water infrastructure was built at the turn of the century,” he said. “We’re wasting water because it’s out of date.”
During the next several years, Zinke said he will focus on improving infrastructure to be efficient and meet the needs of Americans.
While he recognized that national parks are not the entirety of DOI, they do provide the frontlines, which leaves a large responsibility for the agency.
“We have to look at the vision of the future of our pubic lands around our parks to make sure everything works together,” Zinke added, noting that connectivity of trails between parks and public lands is also a priority. “Many of our parks have had record attendance. This is an enormous responsibility.”
Zinke, a former commander of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six and football player for the Oregon Ducks, also mentioned that he will focus on teamwork.
“I don’t think it is my job any more than it is the job of employees of DOI to make a good team,” he said. “We have to each do our duty and dedicate ourselves to this agency.”
He further emphasized that, as the stewards of America’s public lands, DOI must work together.
“I want our employees to re-dedicate themselves for the incredible mission we have as a team,” Zinke commented. “We are going to be the best department in the government. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”
He continued, “As a SEAL, I tried not to lose any battles. I haven’t lost any yet, and I expect all of us to not lose. We’re going to win.”
In addition to emphasizing teamwork and on-the-ground efforts, Zinke said that rumors about reorganization at DOI are true.
“The last time DOI was organized was about 100 years ago, so this reorganization is going to be bold and look at the agency just as Teddy Roosevelt did – looking out 100 years from now and making sure we’re organized to address the challenges of the future.”
In the past, Zinke noted that reorganization has come in the form of stripping front lines and consolidating.
“That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to reorganize to address the challenges that we see coming,” said Zinke, “and there are a lot of challenges.”
Excitement for the future
As he looks forward for the next several years, Zinke referenced a quote inscribed in the Teddy Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone National Park, which reads, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Zinke commented, “Great things, like for the benefit and enjoyment of the people, can only occur when both sides build for higher purpose.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.