Interior boss alters overhaul after pushback

Zinke’s redrawn regional boundary map shows that some Western states would fall within a single region while other states remain divided, including California, Nevada, Montana and Oregon.

By MATTHEW BROWN and DAN ELLIOTT

Associated Press

Published on February 23, 2018 10:11AM

In this Feb. 9 file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks to reporters at a conservation announcement at the Western Conservation and Hunting Expo in Salt Lake City. On Friday, Feb. 23, Zinke will announce he will revise proposed new regional boundaries for the Interior Department as part of a major reorganization of the agency. The new boundaries would more closely follow state lines, a change from his earlier proposal, which largely ignored state boundaries and relied mostly on rivers and other natural features.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

In this Feb. 9 file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks to reporters at a conservation announcement at the Western Conservation and Hunting Expo in Salt Lake City. On Friday, Feb. 23, Zinke will announce he will revise proposed new regional boundaries for the Interior Department as part of a major reorganization of the agency. The new boundaries would more closely follow state lines, a change from his earlier proposal, which largely ignored state boundaries and relied mostly on rivers and other natural features.

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke revamped a plan for a sweeping overhaul of his department Friday with a new organizational map that more closely follows state lines instead of the natural boundaries he initially proposed.

The changes follow complaints from a bipartisan group of Western state governors that Zinke did not consult them before unveiling his original plan last month. The agency oversees vast public lands, primarily in the U.S. West, ranging from protected national parks and wildlife refuges to areas where coal mining and energy exploration dominate the landscape.

Zinke said in an interview with The Associated Press that his goal remains unchanged: decentralizing the Interior Department’s bureaucracy and creating 13 regional headquarters.

The redrawn map, obtained by AP, shows that states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming would fall within a single region instead of being split among multiple regions. Other states remain divided, including California, Nevada, Montana and Oregon.

Aspects of the original map remain, with some regions labeled according to river systems, such as the Upper Colorado Basin and the Missouri Basin. But the new lines tend to cut across geographic features and follow state lines, not boundaries of rivers and ecosystems.

The new proposal resulted from discussions with governors, members of Congress and senior leaders at the agency, Interior officials said.

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, already has imposed major changes at the 70,000-employee Interior Department. He has rolled back regulations considered burdensome to the oil and gas industry and reassigned dozens of senior officials who were holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration.

The vision of retooling the department’s bureaucracy plays into longstanding calls from politicians in the American West to shift more decisions about nearly 700,000 square miles of public lands under Interior oversight to officials in the region.

Some Democrats have speculated that Zinke’s true motivation for the overhaul is to gut the department, noting that more than 90 percent of its employees already work outside Washington, D.C.

Zinke contends that he’s trying to streamline Interior’s management of public lands by requiring all of the agencies within the department to use common regional boundaries, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

Congress has the final word on the proposal.



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