Interior Secretary Zinke signs order prioritizing big game migration corridors during Utah visit

SALT LAKE CITY - U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Utah Friday and signed a secretarial order relating to big game migration corridors.

Zinke was visiting the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo at the Salt Palace.

Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362, and according to the Department of the Interior the order will "improve habitat quality and western big game winter range and migration corridors for antelope, elk, and mule deer."

"The order fosters improved collaboration with states and private landowners and facilitates all parties using the best available science to inform development of guidelines that helps ensure that robust big game populations continue to exist," the press release states.

The order will expand opportunities for big game hunting by improving habitats inside important migration corridors. Priority states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

"We all know that animals go where animals want to go, and more often than not that's dependent upon natural features like watersheds, rather than whether land is owned by the BLM, state, or private landowners," Zinke stated in the release. "We need to manage appropriately. My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this order will help establish better migration corridors for some of North America's most iconic big game species like elk, mule deer and antelope. American hunters are the backbone of big game conservation efforts, and now working with state and private landowners, the Department will leverage its land management and scientific expertise to both study the migration habits of wildlife as well as identify ways to improve the habitat. For example, this can be done by working with ranchers to modify their fences, working with states to collaborate on sage brush restoration, or working with scientists to better understand migration routes."

The Center for Western Priorities responded to Friday's announcement, saying Zinke was trying to "greenwash" an abysmal public lands record.

“There’s no doubt that planning for wildlife migration is important. But there is not a single Interior Secretary in U.S. history who has inflicted more damage to America’s great conservation legacy than Ryan Zinke. Under his leadership, the Interior Department has proposed gutting park and wildlife budgets, undertaken the largest elimination of public land protections in our nation’s history, and undermined the most reasonable safeguards protecting wildlife from the impacts of oil drilling. We won’t allow the secretary and his staff to greenwash this abysmal record with meager policy crumbs.”

Prior to the announcement, 100 protesters showed up at the Salt Palace Friday morning to demand Zinke reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce two Utah national monuments.

“People are gathering here today in order to remind Interior Secretary Zinke that vast numbers of Utahns and people across the country stand against Trump’s illegal order to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase (Escalante) by 85 percent,” said Terri Martin, an organizer with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We hope to accomplish sending the message that what Americans want him to do is manage our public lands in the interest of all people.”

Fox13 asked Zinke what his response is to the protesters.

“We didn't take one square inch out of federal protection; what we did do is we added a million acres back in, to make sure that traditional use—grazing, recreation, hunting, public access—to make sure roads are not closed because public land belongs to the public and not special interests,” Zinke said.

Zinke's full remarks from Friday are available in the video embedded below: