A different letter to Secretary Zinke
June 20, 2017
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
Department of Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke:
On June 13, the Board of Commissioners in Mesa County, Colorado, wrote you concerning a litany of supposed grievances regarding Department of Interior policies and practices as they relate to our county. The purpose of this letter is to offer you another view as you review these and other issues in your early days as secretary.
In their letter, Commissioners McInnis, Pugliese and Justman complained about multiple actions by DOI agencies, most specifically the Bureau of Land Management, and also criticized decisions by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture. Most related to sensible decisions about travel planning, energy development, the Endangered Species Act, methane recapture and access to and preservation of public lands.
I myself am a former elected official, a former Mesa County commissioner as well as past council member and mayor in Grand Junction. My interest is further expanded by professional work with one of our former governors on statewide growth issues and by service as a former board member and past president, of the Colorado Municipal League, the statewide organization of cities and towns.
It’s important you know our three commissioners comprise less than 10 percent of the elected officials in Mesa County. You would find divergent viewpoints on these matters, some directly opposite those of commissioners, among city council members in Grand Junction and Fruita, trustees in Palisade, DeBeque and Collbran and other directly elected county officers.
You should also know our entire community values the economic and civic contributions of the energy industry and that community leaders are also working hard to lessen our reliance on boom and bust extraction.
Nearly 500 business leaders as well as other community members looked forward, not backward, in polling prior to a recent economic development summit. They prioritized expansion of our local university, adding direct daily flights at our regional airport, growing our tech industry, establishing a hub for outdoor recreation and related manufacturing, K-12 education and revitalizing one of our major commercial corridors.
After a day of informative discussion sponsored by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, another poll was taken among participants and on social media. Priorities were rearranged slightly. Nearly 400 respondents gave top priority to focusing on K-12 education, university expansion and growing our outdoor recreation industry. Again, these locals were looking for long-term sustainable economic solutions rather than over-reliance on a single important but highly cyclical industry.
Their focus on outdoor recreation is not incidental to your deliberations. Mesa County residents treasure and enjoy our public lands. Expanding local industries manufacture essential recreational tools. Coloradans everywhere join residents of other western states, including your own Montana, with consistent views expressed in annual State of the Rockies polling by Colorado College. Across all demographics and ideologies, they overwhelmingly support preservation and protection of the public lands that are now your national purview.
Multiple use does not mean every use on every acre of public land. If you accept that premise, you accept that hard decisions must be made. Recent planning efforts for Mesa County’s federal lands have benefited from significant public input over an extended period of time. That informed thoughtful rulemakings by local BLM staff which were confirmed by experienced personnel in Washington.
I served on the Grand Junction City Council with a colleague whose views, political and otherwise, were very different than mine. I am often reminded of a comment he made as we considered a thorny issue.
“Just because I can’t do what you want,” my fellow council member said, “doesn’t mean I haven’t listened to you.”
It’s a lesson our current commissioners might ponder. They and those who think like them were heard, their comments considered. In rulemakings and other matters you are now being asked to review and change, greater long-term good was best served by considering and incorporating other sentiments as well.
As in many of the local decisions our commissioners make, not everyone is happy with those compromises. I hope you will accept and support the decisions they would have you revisit and, like others in our community, look forward, not backward in your important responsibility of overseeing our public lands.