On Friday, June 2, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Boise State’s Stueckle Sky Center to speak to a crowd of land managers, private landowners, university faculty, and the media about the future of federal forestry and land management in the west.
You can listen to the entire talk here: https://soundcloud.com/boise-state-university/secretaries-ryan-zinke-and-sonny-perdue-speak-at-boise-state-university
Each man briefly described their vision for their department before opening the floor up to audience questions — and then heading down to the Blue Turf, which the two former college football players were eager to see.
Perdue, who previously served as the governor of Georgia, spoke to a need for greater collaboration between federal agencies and state and local partners tasked with land management. He stated that “we have the opportunity for the most holistic cabinet I’ve ever seen,” citing President Donald Trump’s order to create an interagency task force for “rural prosperity.”
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and Montana state senator, began his opening remarks by stating that “I’m not an advocate for the sale or transfer of public lands,” to great applause. He echoed Perdue’s calls for collaborative partnerships and said his as secretary will be on building trust with local communities, repairing infrastructure. “We’re about $11.5 billion dollars behind on delayed maintenance and repairs,” he said “About half are roads.” He committed that front-line federal land managers would have the training and resources they need to execute good decisions.
“We have to re-establish collaborative relationships. We want to be the department of ‘yep.’ We want to be about land management, not law enforcement,” he said.
The federal officials answered audience questions ranging on the future of Future Farmers of America to whether grazing fees would be raised, and how Zinke will handle reviewing the boundaries of about 27 national monuments, as charged by President Trump.
Noting that he had visited Craters of the Moon, Zinke said, “My general feeling is that I’m not going to open up any wounds that I have to. A lot of the monuments are settled, people are comfortable with them. So what I’m doing is going to local communities, going to elected officials, meeting with everybody, [asking are they] ‘comfortable?'”
Perhaps laying the groundwork for constricting several contested monument boundaries, most notably Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, Zinke added: “We don’t have the resources on the ground to protect and preserve what we’re tasked to do. That’s a concern, too. You got to have have to have monitoring systems, bathroom systems, the trail systems – if we’re going to protect something, then we have the obligation on our side to make sure we have the manpower and the right resources to protect what the president and the public, what their expectation is.”
When asked why this administration emphasizing jobs in fossil fuels and ceding world leadership in renewals to other countries, Zinke noted that “there are consequences of wind [power], too. Migratory birds are a big issue… [thousands] of birds get chopped up by windmills.”
“About 30 percent of our energy comes from coal,” he said, stressing his previous military record and tying energy production to national security. “I don’t want your son or daughter ever to have to go to war for energy we have here. It’s better to produce energy here of all types that to have it produced overseas without any regulations.“
Asked whether he thought the Forest Service, which is overseen by the Department of Agriculture, should instead reside in the Department of the Interior, Perdue responded that “Regarding the U.S. Forest Service and our public lands, I think it’s time we started looking at forests as crops, as agriculture, and use them because we know that healthy forests produce jobs, produce wildlife, and they can produce a healthier environment ecologically if we manage them.”
He continued, “Our people know trees. They know how to grow trees, they know how to harvest trees, we just need to unleash them and recoup the great resource we have in the U.S. forests for all of our local economies and for the value of the U.S. taxpayers.”
Perdue ended with wise words for a group of young Future Farmers of America who attended the event. Responding to one young woman’s question about how the government could help support farmers, who now average in their mid 50s, Perdue said: “If the manufacturing industry in the U.S. had been as productive as [agriculture]… we wouldn’t be talking about the demise of American manufacturing today. I’m optimistic about the future of people like you with innovation, productivity, research is a key factor.”
Perdue cited a need for entry-level programs for young farmers, small farmers, even veterans-to-farms programs that could lower the barrier of entry into agriculture.
“And I encourage you young people to really focus on [agriculture] communication,” he added. “No longer can we stand in our farms and fields and forests independently, thinking the world is going to understand. They need to understand that the food supply that American producers produce, the fields and the forests and the farms, produce the most abundant, safest food supply anywhere in the world and that’s national security.”