Interior secretary tells ranchers he is ready to listen

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently told two members of a local advocacy group recently that he is ready to embrace change regarding rangeland policies and regulations.

Steve Russell, Malheur County rancher and chairman of the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, and coalition board member Mark Mackenzie met Zinke in Jacksonville for a fundraising dinner for Congressman Greg Walden.

Russell, whose group successfully lobbied against a national monument designation for the Owyhee Canyonlands, said he walked away from his meeting optimistic.

Russell said he only spoke to Zinke for a short time but was able to convey to the unique challenges ranchers face in Malheur County and across the West.

“The way I put it was we must get away from litigation and we need more flexibility and not so much regulation on federal lands,” Russell said.

Other challenges, such as water issues, wild horses and the Antiquities Act, also came up, said Russell.

Russell said Zinke encouraged feedback.

“He wanted to know what we wanted from him so he could do his job, changes we’d like to see be made,” Russell said.

Russell said he conveyed to Zinke that ranchers continue to face obstacles with regulations and the specter of court battles over changes to range policy.

Russell said Zinke’s outlook is positive one for ranchers.

“He is not scared of all this litigation. I felt the meeting was very productive,” said Russell.

Russell said he welcomed the chance to connect with the man leading the federal agency with huge impacts in Malheur County.

“It was good to meet the man and get our foot in the door so to speak. We will be able to work with this guy,” said Russell.

Zinke, a former congressman from Montana, is a University of Oregon graduate and a former Navy SEAL.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or (541) 473-3377.