Hi, I’m Secretary Ryan Zinke, and I’m honored to lead the Department of the Interior as the principal steward of our public lands.
I’m an admirer of President Teddy Roosevelt, and just over a hundred years ago, it was his vision to place millions of acres of public lands under federal protection “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
He and other great visionaries, such as John Wesley Powell and Gifford Pinchot, are responsible for creating the American Conservation Ethic that we revere today.
As a result of their leadership, our parks, wildlife refuges, monuments, wildernesses, and other managed public lands and waters stand as the world’s gold standard for public access and resource management based on science and best practices.
Today, our public lands face new challenges. Last year, our parks were host to over 330 million visitors and Interior lands overall saw over one half a billion visitors.
Visitations to our monuments, battlefields, and campgrounds is at an all-time record, straining infrastructure and accommodations.
Increased use of wildlife refuges and national recreation areas continue to place new demands on our law enforcement and management plans.
Some parks, like Yosemite and Yellowstone, are already at capacity and are in jeopardy of the time honored “American Park Experience.”
An increase in visitors at our parks should be cause for celebration, not alarm. As someone who grew up right next to Glacier National Park in Montana, I believe visiting our National Parks is a rite of passage for Americans of all ages. These experiences are what bind us together as one American people, under one American flag.
As Roosevelt had the courage over a hundred years ago to look to the future, it’s time that we have the same courage and ask ourselves “how can we meet the future demands of our public lands and be the best stewards in the next century?”
Taking inspiration from Powell’s concept of watersheds, we’re looking at reshaping our current bureau-based regional system of management and moving to a system based on ecosystems, watersheds, and science – rather than the current state or regional boundaries.
This concept will allow Interior and other participating agencies to address concerns using a system level approach to better manage important resources such as watersheds, trail systems, infrastructure requirements, and recreational access, and wildlife corridors...because you know, wildlife doesn’t always stay on federal land.
This change will require the bureaus within the Department of Interior to work more closely together on key management decisions and have a formalized structure for multi-department, state, tribal coordination, and consultation.
You know working together at Interior is nothing new We do it today at our joint firefighting center in Boise, Idaho and we have shared offices in multiple locations across the country.
It’s important to maintain the traditions and uniforms of the different bureaus, but better integration at the ecosystem level, for such missions as NEPA, permits, habitats, and recreation, is what we need to do, to be better stewards in the next century.
It’s likely that many administrative functions such as budget, personnel, and legal will see little if any change at all, but how we operate and work together within an ecosystem will be more joint and more collaborative in approach.
To make it work, it also will require giving more flexibility, resources, and decision-making authority to the frontline superintendents and managers so the right action can be quickly made, without excessive paperwork and burdensome administrative requirements.
It will require our scientists to reside in the field doing research and not in the office writing grant proposals asking permission to do research. Our focus will be better field management by delivering the front line the assets they need to make better decisions.
I’m excited at the opportunity to be innovative and start the discussion of how to transform Interior for a better future. While initiated by me, it will be developed and implemented by experts just like you on the front line.
Now is the time to be transformative since 16-percent of Interior personnel today is retirement age. In five years, nearly 40-percent of Interior will be.
As our Interior professionals retire, I think we owe it to our new and existing team members to provide transparent career progression, greater promotion and educational opportunities, and the highest level of job satisfaction.
My goal is simple: make working at Interior the best job in government be a trusted steward of our greatest treasures.
I look forward to working with each of you and hearing your valued ideas. Thank you, God bless, and God bless America.
(Music swells, ends)
More than a century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt outlined his vision for the future of the Department of the Interior as he established the time-honored American conservation ethic. Secretary Zinke is hosting brainstorming sessions this week, taking the first steps to develop a reorganization plan for the next 100 years at Interior.