WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined a coalition of Western Democratic senators in urging the Department of the Interior (DOI) to lift its sudden suspension of long-standing local committees and advisory boards that provide essential community input on public land management.
In response to reports that the Department of the Interior postponed all meetings for public resource advisory councils and committees (RACs) until September, the senators wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking that he allow the RAC’s to do the work their charters direct and continue their regular meetings. New Mexico currently has four RACs covering public lands across the state. They represent the Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Cruces, and Pecos districts and each are composed of 10 members representing a balance of public land resources and users.
“As you know, public land management issues can be very contentious, particularly in the West, as agencies and stakeholders navigate projects that can impact the health of the environment and longevity of the local economy. Balancing these interests is challenging, which is why RACs were created,” the lawmakers wrote. “By working through difficult land management issues and getting local input from the beginning, projects are more likely to succeed. Without this tool, many good land management projects would never be completed.”
The advisory groups are designed to get diverse community input on often contentious public land management issues, and have long helped to balance questions of environmental and economic impacts by informing decisions on issues such as recreation, land use planning, grazing, oil and gas exploration, and wildfire management.
“During your confirmation hearing, you stressed the importance of local input and collaboration on public land management issues. This is exactly what RACs were formed to do and there are examples of RACs across the country contributing to successful projects that improve the quality of our public lands,” the lawmakers added. “It is critical that local voices, including RACs, have the opportunity to provide input and take part in the process at all times, not just when those local voices align with the Administration or a large special interest.”
The letter was led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). In addition to Udall and Heinrich, it was signed by Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).