Deb Haaland

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, wearing jewelry given to her by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes during her recent visit to Wyoming, discuses the challenges faced by Yellowstone National Park. 

CANYON VILLAGE — Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has a responsibility to work with Yellowstone National Park’s ecosystem neighbors to resolve vexing cross-boundary conservation problems like climate change, wildfire, crushing visitation and wildlife that “don’t see borders,” she said Friday.

Flanked by buffalo on the drive and hike to the banks of the Yellowstone River, Haaland outlined her duty to sustain “the shared ancestral homelands of the Northwest and Great Plains Nations who were the first stewards of this special place.”

She wore a beadwork necklace, bracelet and earrings given to her the day before by leaders of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

To preserve Yellowstone and the ecosystem around it, for “our children and grandchildren,” Haaland said it’s necessary to engage towns, counties, states and others.

“Developing those relationships so that we can all make the best decisions together for that ecosystem is certainly an obligation that I take seriously,” she said near the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone.

The Biden administration’s positions, however, differ from Wyoming’s on many environmental and conservation issues, a divide that Gov. Mark Gordon underscored after he met with Haaland on Thursday. As Yellowstone faces climate change, for example, and the Biden-Harris administration strives to cut carbon emissions by pausing federal oil and gas leasing to review policies, Wyoming wants leasing to begin again.

“One key topic for me was our energy and mining industries” on which the state heavily relies, Gordon said in a statement after meeting Haaland. The governor “urged Secretary Haaland to hold the Bureau of Land Management’s postponed March and June 2021 oil and gas lease sales,” Gordon’s press office wrote in a statement. The Biden administration “will proceed with leasing,” officials said Monday.

“I continue to stress how much the mineral industry has done for our state, its importance to our economy, and the impacts and issues created by the Biden administration’s actions,” Gordon’s statement reads.

In addition to oil and gas, Gordon’s statement said he raised other prickly issues with Haaland. These include Wyoming’s desire to manage grizzly bears, an omnivore protected by the Endangered Species Act but which the state has proposed to hunt. They talked about the Bureau of Reclamation, according to Gordon’s office — an Interior Department agency that struggles to maintain the level of Lake Powell as Wyoming plans to divert and store even more flows from the troubled Colorado River Basin.

Interior’s BLM will review a Trump decision to allow mineral exploration and mining in 252,160 acres of the most valuable habitat for greater sage grouse in Wyoming — sagebrush focal areas that the Obama administration protected. Wyoming feels Gordon’s executive order protecting sage grouse is a sufficient guard for the troubled bird, but a court disagreed after Western Watersheds Project and others sued.

Haaland’s department, mainly through the BLM and National Park Service, manages 32% or about 20.4 million of Wyoming’s 62.6 million acres. The BLM manages minerals across 68% of Wyoming.

Haaland and Gordon found some common ground on that shared landscape.

The two discussed the governor’s migration corridor executive order and how it both supports conservation and accommodates “multiple-use opportunities while protecting private property rights,” Gordon’s statement said. As that conversation took place in Lander on Thursday, Haaland’s agency and the sister Department of Agriculture announced $2 million in wildlife migration grants that could support deer, pronghorn and elk routes in Wyoming and around Yellowstone.

Haaland’s principal message in Yellowstone, however, was about “the big investments that the federal family is making to support our parks and public lands, including right here in Wyoming,” she said. She ticked off The Great American Outdoors Act, the Biden-Harris 30×30 America the Beautiful volunteer conservation initiative and the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, all of which will help the ecosystem, she said.

The Great American Outdoors Act, which Haaland supported as a congresswoman, will bring $121.5 million to Yellowstone, she said. It will rehabilitate 22 miles of the park’s Grand Loop Road, replace the Lewis River Bridge and restore historic buildings at Fort Yellowstone, now the site of park headquarters at Mammoth.

“The Great American Outdoors Act investments in the park’s infrastructure in 2021 alone are expected to support nearly 1,600 jobs and contribute $339 million to the nation’s economy,” she said. Such investments are “absolutely necessary” to help manage record visitation and “threats to our natural resources from climate change,” Haaland said.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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