A Victory for Balanced Use of Public Land

What do you get when you put three western state legislators and a county commissioner in a room with some of the most powerful people in Washington, DC? A whole lot of smiles, handshakes, and some fast walking and serious advocacy.

Last fall, over 75 state representatives and county commissioners from seven western states signed a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The letter asked Secretary Jewell to consider a balanced approach to public land use, such that one use is not prioritized higher than others. It also asked for a secretarial order to review best practices for development on public lands, and to review the royalty rates oil and gas companies pay so that local communities impacted by development can receive much needed funds.

The letter was delivered in January, and four of the signers flew to Washington, DC to meet with legislators and administration officials to discuss the letter’s requests.

The meetings were a success! Two weeks after they returned, Secretary Jewell released her strategy for mitigating the effects of development on public land, so that balancing the many uses can benefit all of us.

Rep. Donna Pence from Gooding, ID; Rep. Nate Cote from Organ, NM; Rep. Bridget Smith from Wolf Point, MT; and County Commissioner John Olivas represented the letter signers (shown above) in meetings that included Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Sen. Jim Risch, Rep. Steve Daines, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Director of the Bureau of Land Management Neil Kornze.
Each member of this delegation had some specific requests. Most wanted to share information and receive updates on new or proposed national monuments. We specifically mentioned the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the proposed monuments of Organ Mountains Desert Peaks in New Mexico and Boulder White Clouds in Idaho.

Rep. Smith’s district includes the Bakken oil fields, and her request was different from the others. As oil and gas exploration has brought a population boom of transient workers, small towns in eastern Montana are struggling to keep up with infrastructure demands and public safety concerns. She requested the Department of Interior review and increase royalty rates oil companies pay to explore on public land, so there would be money for local communities impacted by the oil boom.

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