Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of the Interior earlier this year, and thank you for the attention you have brought to the economic impact of outdoor recreation and conservation in rural economies across the country.
Energy development is extremely important to our economy and national security. Balancing
development with other important uses of our public land is vital to our rural economies and to future generations of Americans. You have spoken encouragingly about this balance yourself, and we could not agree with you more.
That is why we, the undersigned group of county commissioners and state legislators from rural areas in seven western states, write to implore you to bring balance back to the use and management of our public lands, and to equalize the priority given to exploration of fossil fuels and other uses of public land, such as recreation, conservation, wildlife habitat, and responsible grazing.
In his first term, President Obama leased 2.5 times more land for oil and gas development than he conserved for the public to access and enjoy. This is a worrisome trend.
Balancing energy development with other uses of public land is essential to maintaining rural economies and the quality of life in our communities. The $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, upon which many western rural communities rely, depends on conservation of public land and wildlife habitat located there. The access to beautiful public places is a top reason why many people move to the West, and it is our responsibility as local elected officials to communicate to you the importance of keeping these places beautiful and easily accessible.
To ensure balanced management of our public lands, we respectfully request the following actions. First, we ask that you issue a Secretarial Order that makes sure conservation and recreation are considered in oil and gas planning, and that local communities are meaningfully consulted in all stages of the leasing process. Second, there are many remote and backcountry areas of public land that are particularly important for wildlife habitat conservation and to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists that support our rural economies. These special remote and backcountry areas should be identified with input from local communities, and protected where appropriate. Such an action would affirm your recent public statement that some places are too special to be opened up for energy development. Lastly, we ask that your agency consider a more fair and equitable royalty rate that ensures greater return to the communities impacted by oil and gas exploration.
The seven states we collectively represent contain nearly one-third of all federally-owned public land. We are not asking for outdoor recreation or conservation to be prioritized above other uses - we recognize there are places that are appropriate for oil and gas development, and these places should be explored appropriately and responsibly. Instead, we believe that conservation, recreation, responsible grazing, wildlife habitat, and other uses of our public land should be seen as equally important as energy exploration, similar to many past presidential administrations.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our requests on behalf of our rural economies and public lands legacy.