Interior Secretary Alters His Overhaul Plans After Governors Push Back

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.

Regional map redrawn

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.

Many department changes

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, 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 (more than 1.8 million square kilometers) 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 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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