Bennet, Western senators ask Sec. Zinke to reverse suspension of BLM resource council meetings

Sen. Michael Bennet on Thursday joined a group of Western senators in asking the Department of Interior to lift its sudden suspension of advisory committees and local boards that deliver public input on the Bureau of Land Management’s policy decisions.

“These meetings are an invaluable way to ensure rural and local voices in Colorado are heard and considered in conversations about the use of our public lands,” Bennet said in a statement. “The administration should not block community input on BLM actions. These meetings should be reinstated immediately.”

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Last week, members of Colorado’s four Resource Advisory Councils were told by BLM officials that all meetings were suspended until September. The councils — typically 15 citizen-nominated members who meet four times a year — are made up of public land management stakeholders, including conservationists, ranchers, outdoor recreation users, energy representatives and local politicians. A statement from the BLM said the agency is reviewing more than 200 board, councils and committees and the review “necessitates the postponement of all advisory committee meetings.”

Scott Braden with Conservation Colorado is a member of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Resource Advisory Council. His group has been working on a draft resource management plan for the BLM’s lands in eastern Colorado.

“It’s a critical time and there are real world consequences here,” Braden said. “The cruel irony is that Secretary Ryan Zinke is talking a lot about how he values local input and that’s exactly what RACs provide.”

The letter — signed by Democrat Sens. Bennet, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Dianne Feinstein of California — noted that none of the senators were notified of the suspended meetings and none were given a reason for the suspension. The letter said a suspension of council meetings in Oregon could delay projects that might lose federal funding if not implemented by mid-September.

“Postponing their progress is a detriment to public land and forest management goals, to jobs and local economies, and to public confidence in federal government,” the letter reads.

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